Debate: Should the May elections go ahead?

The Electoral Commission lists these UK elections which are due to be held in May this year:

Local council elections in England
Local and Combined Authority Mayoral elections
Mayor of London and London Assembly elections
Police and Crime Commissioner elections in England and Wales
Senedd Cymru/Welsh Parliamentary election
Scottish Parliamentary election

That’s with any required by-elections on top. That is a huge slate of elections covering the whole of the UK except for Northern Ireland, which may well have the odd by-election or three.

Is it going to be safe to have millions of people trooping in and out of polling stations in May?

Should the elections be postponed for another year?

Should the elections be 100% postal ballot affairs?

Should elections be postponed – or made 100% postal – in areas of high Covid-19 infection?

Our resident sage, Lord Roger Roberts has sent us his two-penny worth:

Since asking on Facebook if elections should go ahead this coming May the majority of those who, responded are in favour of delaying these elections while the pandemic rages with the necessity for social distancing –
What campaign can be organised with leaflet delivery and cold calling severely restricted ?
With all the regulations can we find as many candidates as previously ?
How can we obtain actual signatures, up to ten, on each nomination form plus the candidate and agent. ? These require meeting up with people outside any “bubble”. In the Welsh and Scottish parliamentary elections a deposit needs to be collected.
How can we receive and check postal votes and at the Count , involving passing papers from one person to others ?
For Polling Stations -Do we close schools for the day ? Do we stop Vaccinations ?
And the Count itself -? Six feet apart ?

Far wiser and more practical to delay

They postponed when Foot And Mouth disease ravaged the countryside. Perhaps there is an answer and not only from the Party of the Shires !

Will voting in early May bring accusations of “stolen votes”?

What do you think? Please let us know in the comments thread below.

Photo by Rain Rabbit Flickr CCL

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  • Paul Barker 19th Jan '21 - 2:13pm

    I say we should listen to The “Experts” on this, the People who will actually have to run these Elections – Local Authorities. Many of them, dominated by a range of Parties, say they will face massive problems in May, we should listen to them.

  • John Marriott 19th Jan '21 - 2:30pm

    Much as I dislike them, why not have all postal ballots?

  • Joseph Bourke 19th Jan '21 - 2:42pm

    Postponing elections would be a retrograde step in my view. The Pandemic has accelerated a move to online working. It may be time to roll out electronic voting (with Postal voting as a option as it was in the US elections) as much of the infrastructure appears to be in place and all over 50s should be vaccinated by May.
    The independent candidate – London businesswoman Farah – appears to be investing in advertising her campaign on this site. It might be a bit crass to call for another postponement when digital and media campaigns are already underway.

  • Might be a blessing in disguise for us!!

  • Nonconformistradical 19th Jan '21 - 4:09pm

    @John Marriott
    Postal ballots – is there time and resource available to organise a very significant increase in the number of voters having postal ballots? Who will pay for it?

    @Joseph Bourke
    “It may be time to roll out electronic voting”
    How will you audit them? To the satisfaction of voters? Paper-based voting at least means the votes are counted in from of an audience of human beings.

  • Ian Patterson 19th Jan '21 - 4:44pm

    Today’s death rate is 1610. Extraordinarily crass to carry out elections in that set of conditions. I speak as one who was due for re election last year and who is standing this year or whenever they do go ahead.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 19th Jan '21 - 4:59pm

    Answering this depends on whether postal ballots can be the only way.

    If not, these elections must be cancelled.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 19th Jan '21 - 5:00pm

    The party ought not leaflet at all, Ed looked more daft on this than on rejoin!!!!!!!!

  • James Moore 19th Jan '21 - 6:44pm

    If we have May elections, that means we will need to start going round door-to-door in March collecting nomination signatures and meeting hundreds and thousands of people face-to-face. How is that going to work out?

  • The elections should proceed with 100% postal voting.

    Electronic voting is something needing major legal changes, and the piloting of any new systems. None of that is remotely realistic for this May.

    There should be no in-person canvassing for health reasons.

  • From the Council point of view, what are the consequencies of going for all postal ballots? Is that still difficult for them to manage?
    That question is separate from the issue of political campaigning. Perhaps in the interests of democracy we should accept it will be all postal ballots and restrict our campaigning to phoning, Royal Mail deliveries and social media.
    Yes, it will be different but the alternative is, for example, that some elections will have been postponed for 18 months, and that some seats will have been vacant for more than a year where people have resigned or died.

  • Delivering leaflets if you do it by yourself is safer than getting on a bus. Getting on a bus is safer than going to a supermarket. And when I say safer I am talking about other people’s safety as well as your own. Deferring elections brings its own dangers.

  • Laurence Cox 19th Jan '21 - 9:18pm

    Postponing elections doesn’t mean we have to postpone them for a whole year. There is nothing magical about the first Thursday in May. How about postponing them until, say, the first Thursday in September. If we haven’t got on top of covid by then, we have much more to worry about than local elections.

  • Tony Greaves 19th Jan '21 - 11:53pm

    Whatever – we must do everything we can to campaign hard locally and not wait. Different places may do it in different ways but it people are happy doing leaflets they should do leaflets. And everyone should do everything else. The Tories are desperate to have elections when no-one else can campaign effectively. The Electoral Commission say the elections will be safe if run according to their instructions. I fear that in many places doing so will not be practical for local Councils. My forecast? The Government will call them off at almost the last possible moment – the worst of all worlds.

  • Tony Greaves 19th Jan '21 - 11:56pm
  • John Marriott 20th Jan '21 - 7:45am

    As far as the County Council Elections in Lincolnshire are concerned, the cynic in me reckons that they might as well cancel them as we already know the result!

    However, I stick to my position that, although it will cost, why not have a full postal election for tier one and tier two councils at least.

  • Steve Comer 20th Jan '21 - 9:35am

    Bear in mind that many of the elections due to be held in May were already postponed from May 2020. I don’t think it is democratic for any Councillors to have a 6 year term!
    Surely the best solution is for the elections to either go ahead as planned or be postponed a few weeks and held in June or early July? This would give time for a bit of lateral thinking about how to conduct them.

    Promotion of postal vote applications from now would help, and we could consider having Polling stations open for more than one day, and also having drop off points for postal ballots in places like libraries, sub post offices, and even supermarkets. Others have mentioned electronic voting, I’m not sue how feasible that would be accross the country given the history of Government IT failures. But it should certainly be trialled in a large number of different Council areas this year (probably those with only one tier of elections)

    This pandemic has already been used by the Tory Government to give lucrative contacts to their friends and donors, lets not gift them the opportunity to cancel more elections because they fear the verdict of the electorate!

  • Ruth Bright 20th Jan '21 - 9:41am

    I agree with Lorenzo! Ed Davey’s performance on Andrew Marr was risible – apparently FOCUS deliverers will sanitise their hands etc etc (what – between each letterbox?) and FOCUS contains useful information about COVID services (which only FOCUS could provide?)

  • James Fowler 20th Jan '21 - 9:49am

    It would have been ‘safer’ to keep Trump in office. Thank goodness the American elections were not postponed. Something to think about before we carrying on blithely throwing democracy under the wheels of the virus?

  • neil James sandison 20th Jan '21 - 9:55am

    This for those of us who have elections by thirds this would be the second /cancellation ,postponement . It has disrupted the selection process and undermines local democracy .Full postal votes and electronic counting is the only safe way to proceed with the elections . Government will need to contribute by emergency legislation and financial support but we need a decision now be they held in May or June .

  • Peter Davies 20th Jan '21 - 10:19am

    How about letting every local authority change its own polling day on a permanent basis.
    It would make local elections local rather than just national opinion polls.

    It should be easier to organise outsourced stuff like mailing postal ballots if firms were doing this all year round and some key staff could be shared between authorities allowing them to specialize (most deputy returning officers are on their first election).

    Coincidentally, some of our more fanatical supporters would have something to do when there are no bye-elections.

  • In 2004 we had all postal elections here in the NW, plus the NE and York’s & Humber.
    The big problem were the contractors handling the sending out of postal votes, I think in Stockport the local and European elections were very nearly wrecked by the sloppy behaviour of a contractor (appointed by government) resulting in people not receiving ballots or only receiving them at the last minute.
    Also the plans for this were laid a good six months prior to the elections, so now is probably too late for a May al postal election.
    In one case, due to the postal vote mess up, a losing independent candidate in a Hull ward challenged his result in the courts, the rerun resulted in us gaining a UKIP seat!
    Finally, won’t the Scottish and Welsh elections be a decision for their Parliament or Senedd? Not Boris.

  • Forgot to say, election timing, pandemic allowing and unless there is a dramatic improvement in the next 8 weeks which I doubt, September perhaps the first or second Thursday, to avoid any party conference boost which no doubt the Tories would aim for with an early October election.

  • Yes we should hold the elections. May is four months away. We all deserve the chance to punish or award our political representatives at the ballot box. If ordinary people can be made unemployed because of policies enacted by parliament, then they deserve the right to make their MPs live with the same financial and job insecurity.

  • To deal with some of the arguments against –
    All Postal Voting – some Councils say they cant handle it/ for most Councils they can only afford Royal Mail, currently I have seen deliveries taking up to 6 Weeks within The UK.
    The idea of each Authority choosing its own date, draw up a motion but thats very long-term & would need Legislation.

    Yes the delays so far are dreadful but we are in a crisis here, allowing By-elections might be a good way to test out some of the alternatives to delay, try writing to B Johnson.

  • Ruth Bright 20th Jan '21 - 1:29pm

    James – postal elections should go ahead but we shouldn’t be delivering during lockdown.

  • Hannah Giovanna Daws 20th Jan '21 - 3:06pm

    They should be prosponed until September, but the government will resist tooth-and-nail until then.

    I don’t see how we safely do a paper count – I’d certainly refuse to attend one and I’m an agent.

  • I share all the msigivings about a poll in early May, a poll for which it will have been impossible to campaign properly. But many first tier councils are effectively imploding. Three parish/town councils close to me have met only twice since March of last year, many others have a record barely better. Councils are short handed because the elections to fill casual vacancies have already been held over. By mid summer there will be no meaningful first tier government in many parts of the country the way things are going.

  • Stephen Booth 20th Jan '21 - 7:06pm

    My guess, like Tony Greaves, is that the elections will be cancelled. But holding them in the first or second Thursday in September makes sense if the pandemic is fading and under control.

    The biggest problem in all of the above comments and which hasn’t had enough thought, is nomination. Not too much of a problem where we’re strong but wards where we normally run paper candidates will be very difficult if there are any ‘tier’ restrictions.

    The problem highlights the odd way candidates get nominated. In the digital age it should be possible to submit a list of registered electors with their email addresses, perhaps more than are legally required, to the returning officer who then emails (or possibly writes if mail services are working) to get their confirmation of support for the candidate. Once the necessary ten confirmations are received and in accordance with the RO’s timetable, the candidate is nominated. As for the count, I would severely limit the numbers attending: candidates, agents and no more than one counting agent.

  • I think May is a bit too soon. I suggest mid June.

  • I cant see a safe way for the election to take place in May. As for electronic voting like the US, you still have to go to a polling station to vote and that vote still has to be checked by hand afterwards, even if its 20% that’s still a lot of people crowded together with a lot of people touching paper that’s been touched by lots of people.
    Currently we have the largest infection rate in the world and numbers aren’t going down yet. How is this supposed to be turned around in 4 months? An August or September election would make a lot more sense, especially if the Coronavirus behaves like it did last year.

  • Alex Macfie 21st Jan '21 - 6:27am

    James Fowler:

    “Thank goodness the American elections were not postponed.”

    You needn’t have worried — the US President’s term is constitutionally limited to 4 years, extendable only by re-election (once). So if the election had been postponed, he would still have left office yesterday at noon, and presumably replaced by Nancy Pelosi.

  • Chris Cory – interesting point.

  • James Fowler 21st Jan '21 - 1:09pm

    @Alex Macfie: That’s interesting, but misses the point. This discussion is about whether people use COVID-19 to create precedent, in this case to suspend normal democratic/constitutional procedures of the sort you describe. If Trump had wanted to use the virus in this way he could have – as indeed people in this post are advocating we do now – but perhaps without properly considering where that line of argumentation leads.

  • Alex Macfie 21st Jan '21 - 1:22pm

    @James Fowler: No he couldn’t. The US Constitution couldn’t be clearer — a Presidential term lasts 4 years, renewable once only by re-election. If no election is held in time, then the post passes to the Speaker of the House of Representatives. To change that would require a supermajority in both Houses of Congress. Of course Trump’s pure transactional worldview meant he probably thought he could somehow override the constitution by negotiation or fixing, but even his judicial appointees wouldn’t bend the rules for him as he must have assumed they would have done.
    The very fact that Trump left the White House and Joe Biden took over as per the election result and timetable shows that he could NOT create precedent by executive fiat in the way you suggest.

  • Speaking personally, I hope they go ahead. I had promised my family I would stand down last year, I’ve had to stay on for another year, and now potentially even longer. In Northants all councilors would be entering the seventh year of their four year terms if there’s a further delay and the democracy gap is getting too large. There are Councils where control has changed not due to any voters or councillor defections but by not being able to replace councilors who have resigned or passed away.

    If it was up to me I would be bringing forward a bill with 4 elements:
    1) Self-nomination for this year only, removing all requirements to collect nomination signatures.
    2) Returning Officers authorised to move any polling districts to all-postal voting where the polling station cannot be made COVID-safe in their opinion.
    3) Explicitly allowing leaflet delivery but not door-knocking.
    4) Creating ‘count bubbles’ where each ward would be counted separately with 1 manager, up to 4 counters, up to 2 reps from each party standing in the ward, and an absolute ban on anyone being in multiple bubbles (this would mean the returning officer adjudicating doubtful ballot papers remotely in all but one ward…..) Only way I can see to make count COVID-safe while allowing for reasonable scrutiny.

    If I were putting money on, I’d be waging on a delay for all reasons in the comments, but I’m still hoping they can be made to work safely.

  • If there is to be a delay, for me it’s by July or bust.
    Extending to July would be livable.
    But if you go for September, then you lose any August break campaigning. You then have a 6 month Council year. So if there is a change in control you’ll need to reset all your committees, with the prospect of them only having a 6 month shelf-life where it could all change again. Such frequent change may only occur in a few councils, but it will seriously affect Governance at a critical time.

    So if it has to be a delay, either a short one or a full year would make sense – for me September or so is the worst of all worlds.

  • 6% in the polls. No election this year, for us could be a blessing in disguise.

  • Paul Holmes 21st Jan '21 - 3:54pm

    @Theakes. So you keep saying. But we were not much better before the May 2019 Council elections (plus the Chuck/Tiggas etc were supposedly going to eliminate us entirely) when we actually made our biggest gains ever.

    Opinion polls about hypothetical GE voting intentions tell us little about how we will do in real Local elections where serious candidates campaign hard. Just as the ludicrous June polls told us nothing reliable about how people would vote in the real GE 6 months later. Although, regrettably, we based our fantasy GE campaign on such polls.

  • roger roberts 21st Jan '21 - 6:56pm

    No Theakes we’ve advanced somewhat !
    Britain Elects
    19 Jan
    Westminster voting intention:

    CON: 40% (-1)
    LAB: 38% (+1)
    LDEM: 8% (-)
    GRN: 5% (-)
    REFUK: 2% (-)

  • Ronald Murray 22nd Jan '21 - 7:40am

    With the Covid Crisis going on it would possibly be better to postpone the elections until later in the year. I for one would have trepidation going to a polling station and have guarantee of 2M distancing. I do not think there would be any advantage in changes of administration in the middle of this emergency. What I would like is for Westminster, Holyrood, Cordiff and Belfast governments to have all parties represented on the committee handling the crisis a virtual coalition. All we seem to see is Nicola Sturgeon up here delivering good briefings and Boris blundering on as we know he does not do detail.

  • James Fowler 24th Jan '21 - 3:00pm

    @Alex Macfie: Your argument remains interesting but relates to procedures rather than first principles.

    There is no point citing the mere existence of rules as proof that something can or can’t happen if the argument being proposed (as it is here) is that the rules themselves should be suspended because special circumstances.

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