Call for PCC elections to be postponed as UK moves to ‘delay’ phase of coronavirus strategy

The Electoral Commission has written to the Government recommending that the local elections scheduled for May be postponed until the autumn because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Mar 12, 2020
By Tony Thompson

The elections are due to take place on May 7 with votes being cast for 40 police and crime commissioners, eight directly elected mayors and representatives in 118 local councils throughout England.

The Electoral Commission said the decision related to the “growing risks” to the delivery of the polls.

In a post on Twitter, the Commission said: “We’ve written to the UK Government to recommend that the May polls be postponed until the autumn as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. This is due to growing risks to the delivery of the polls & to mitigate the impact on voters, campaigners & electoral administrators.”

Earlier this week the Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA) wrote to the Cabinet Office urging the Government to consider the legal grounds for postponing the elections. The AEA said sickness could force polling station closures and raised concerns about whether there would be enough staff to organise the ballot.

Candidates could be too ill to attend counts and administrators are already reporting anxiety from voters about whether postal ballots could transmit the virus, the AEA said.

In the letter, Peter Stanyon, chief executive of the AEA, asked for guidance on how to sanitise polling stations and warned that some temporary staff are turning down polling station work due to the risk of contracting the virus.

“Returning officers will work hard to recruit new people, but if the outbreak worsens as we approach May 7, we are worried that there will simply not be enough staff to keep all stations open,” he said.

“This could be made worse if someone who attends polling station training were to show symptoms, leading to all staff at that training session needing to self-isolate.”

He added: “We would also urge you to look at the legal basis for postponing polls, both for individual areas and across the UK, should the situation worsen as we approach May 7.”

The letter from the Electoral Commission was sent to the Government just ahead of the announcement of new measures aimed at slowing the spread of the virus as part of its ‘delay’ phase strategy.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK was dealing with “the worst public health crisis for a generation” and that anyone with a new persistent cough or high temperature should self-isolate for seven days.

From Friday, school trips abroad will be banned, and older people and those with pre-existing health conditions have been told not to go on cruises.

Ten people have now died in the UK as a result of the virus and there have been 596 confirmed cases across the country. However, it is thought that the true figure for those infected may be as high as 10,000.

Any decision on postponing the elections needs to be made promptly as formal notice of the poll is due on March 31 and candidate nomination papers have to be submitted by April 8.

In 2001 the local elections were postponed by a month because of the foot and mouth disease outbreak.

Postponing the PCC elections could lead to a number of complications. At last 12 of those currently in post have announced that they will not be standing for re-election. As many of those standing down are likely to have already made alternative career plans, they are unlikely to be able to remain in the job for an additional 12 months.

Responding to the news that the Electoral Commission has written to the Government recommending that local elections, including Police and Crime Commissioner elections, due in May be postponed until the autumn, APCC Chair Katy Bourne said: “The APCC remains in close contact with the Government ahead of the PCC elections and we will continue to monitor the situation.”

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