Electoral Commission calls for local elections to be postponed over coronavirus pandemic

Local elections in May should be postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Electoral Commission has urged.

By Daniel Holland
Friday, 13th March 2020, 1:50 pm
Ballot box
Ballot box

Polls are due to be held up and down the country on May 7 to elect local councillors, metro mayors, and police and crime commissioners.

But the Electoral Commission says it “cannot be confident that voters will be able to participate in the polls safely and confidently” because of the outbreak and has called on the Government to delay the elections until the autumn.

Council elections are due to be held this year in Sunderland, South Tyneside, Hartlepool, Newcastle, Gateshead and North Tyneside.

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The election of the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner would also be affected by any postponement.

County Durham and Northumberland are not due to hold elections again until 2021.

Some metro mayor elections are also being held on May 7, though not for the North of Tyne mayor – with Jamie Driscoll’s term of office running to 2024.

The Tees Valley mayoral election is due to be held this May, as well as those for Greater Manchester, Liverpool, and the West Midlands.

In a letter to the Government, Electoral Commission chief executive Bob Posner said that many people will either not have the opportunity to vote on May 7, or will choose not to, because of the Covid-19 crisis.

He added that local councils have concerns over their ability to staff polling stations, while campaigning from candidates “may not be possible, leaving insufficient space for the arguments to be heard”.

Mr Posner said: “Clearly any decisions to delay elections which are due is significant and would not normally be desirable; however, we are in unprecedented times.

“The risks to delivery that have been identified are such that we cannot be confident that voters will be able to participate in the polls safely and confidently, nor that campaigners and parties will be able to put their case to the electorate.

“We therefore call on the Government to take steps to provide early clarity to all those with an interest in the electoral process; and on the available information and position we recommend the Government now delay the 7 May polls until the autumn.”