23/02/2021 – Press Release – Safe to vote – but not to go on holiday?
On 5 February the Government announced that various local elections will take place as scheduled in May. So the Government now proposes elections, but not holidays. Mid Sussex Labour candidates stand ready to replace West Sussex Conservatives who have disastrously administered the County Council for years. But will the election process actually be safe for voters and democracy?
Political parties and local government election officials await advice on how to conduct elections safely. By May millions will have had first jabs. But the nation will not be Covid free. We now expect social distancing requirements to be in place for a long time. Our current legal, democratic election process involves multiple points of social contact. So we face a debate, minimise Covid risks or change the election process that involves many face to face contacts by every political party.
- Each candidate currently needs 10 nomination signatures from local residents. This figure may be cut in 2021. But volunteers are needed to collect signatures. For Mid Sussex political parties that means over 2,000 face to face contacts and for West Sussex parties over 10,0000.
- Party election campaign leaflets provide the main source of information about candidates and their policies. For Covid safety reasons our volunteers are currently advised not to deliver any. If every household received just one leaflet from each main party that’s over 200,000 deliveries in Mid Sussex and well over a million in West Sussex. The safe alternative is to use Royal Mail delivery, at a cost that could breach legal election spending limits.
- Canvassing is a key democratic process. If volunteers are allowed to knock on doors and canvas everyone in Mid Sussex that’s another 100,000 face to face contacts, massively increasing the risk of Covid transmission.
- Then we have voting at polling stations on election day. Staff, as well as voters will be vulnerable. Bringing your own pen or pencil to mark the ballot paper is not enough.
Most polling stations are small. Larger ones like Clair Hall in Haywards Heath is unavailable as it is a Vaccination Centre. So we can expect to see long queues at polling stations. To avoid queues we recommend that people apply for a postal vote. For various reasons not everyone likes that option, despite them being able to vote safely and securely from home.
- Finally votes are counted. Again staff and volunteers will vulnerable to infection. To ensure a valid count political parties are allowed observers. If the Government bars observer access a fundamental democratic safeguard is compromised.
Before any more money is spent and to avoid a late u-turn postponing election day these concerns must be addressed by the Government. We want elections to take place safely and democratically. If the Government cannot guarantee that we call for postponement until a safer date.
Pam Haigh (Burgess Hill North)
Paul Kenny (Cuckfield & Lucastes)
Greg Mountain (Haywards Heath Town)
Richard Whiting (Haywards Heath East)
Alison Whelan (Hurstpierpoint & Bolney)
Tim Weekes (Lindfield & High Weald)