“No longer possible to hold safe and open elections in May,” says LGIU

A press release from the Local Government Information Unit brings the news:

Survey finds councils overwhelmingly concerned about their ability to deliver a May poll

LGIU survey results showing high levels of concern over holding May elections

Today, the Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) reveals that the majority of council officials are overwhelmingly concerned about their ability to hold local elections in May with more than two thirds (69%) suggesting an autumn timetable is more achievable.

LGIU survey results showing support for delay in May elections

The survey of 353 Chief Executives (who are often returning officers), Democratic Services Officers and Council Leaders is the most comprehensive survey of council officials across England on the 2021 local elections. It found that their greatest concerns were around preparing for May elections that would only later be postponed, their ability to recruit and train electoral workers and their ability to prepare under current conditions.

As the government continues to push for the May elections to go ahead as planned, respondents felt the most helpful thing they could do to make the elections free, fair and safe would be to delay them to a firm later date, provide additional ring fenced funding and support postal voting.

Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive LGIU, said:

Local government is committed to democracy, but the overwhelming view from councils is that it is no longer possible to hold safe and open elections in May. The logistical challenges are formidable and there’s a real risk that we effectively disenfranchise millions of people who do not feel safe going to the polls.

The worst scenario of all would be for the Government to push ahead only to have to make a U-turn late in the day when councils will already have spent a fortune in money and time preparing. Better to take a bold decision now to delay the elections and use the additional time to ensure they can be run safely.

Such measures should include the vaccination of poll workers and an expansion of postal voting. Public confidence in elections is an essential foundation of our democracy; once lost it takes years to rebuild. That risk is not worth taking.

To add to the LGIU’s story, two other important factors are the ability of candidates to get themselves nominated (which required getting signatures on pieces of paper from people) and to campaign. So far, the government’s position is that the elections should go ahead, but you can only leaflet if you’ve got money to pay others to do it. The influence of money in politics is problematic enough without running elections under such rules to specially favour the most well-off campaigns.

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