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Local Parties Have Their Say On Go-ahead For May 6 Elections

Published on: 8 Feb, 2021
Updated on: 10 Feb, 2021

With confirmation that council and mayoral elections will take place across the country on Thursday, May 6, there is concern over how confident and safe people will feel to vote at their local polling station due to the pandemic.

Local elections will be taking place on May 6.

The government has pledged £92 million to make polling stations safer. Details on the website says: “Hand sanitiser will be available and, where appropriate, screens and distance markings will be in use.

“Polling stations will need to be set up to maximise ventilation, and frequent touch points will need to be cleaned at very regular intervals.

“All touch points should be cleaned before and after use. Voters (and companions of disabled voters) should bring their mask, as they would wear in any indoor public place, and we will be encouraging them to bring their own pen or pencil with which to mark their ballot paper.”

Seats on Surrey County Council will be contested along with the election of Surrey Police & Crime Commissioner.

The Guildford Dragon NEWS asked our local parties to comment and in particular their views on encouraging people to use a postal vote.

Cllr Fiona White.

Surrey County Councillor for Guildford West, Fiona White (Lib Dem) said: “Elections are important. This year they will decide who runs Surrey County Council for the next four years and the Police & Crime Commissioner for three years.

“I hope that we will have more control over the virus by polling day in May but that may not happen. I don’t want anyone to miss their chance to vote because they are worried about their safety. Having a postal vote takes away that concern and means everyone can have their say.”

Zoe Franklin.

Guildford’s Lib Dem parliamentary spokesperson, Zoe Franklin, added: “There’s so much uncertainty still about Covid and how we can regain some normality while also staying safe.

“The local elections are an important part of that normality as they provide an opportunity for local people to have their say on how Surrey County Council and the police are run. But I know people may wonder how they can ensure they cast their vote safely. I encourage people to sign up for a postal vote – it’s really easy to do, and they’ll be able to vote and make their voice heard in a covid-safe and convenient way.”

Guildford Labour Party said in a statement, “In Surrey, we elect the county council only once every four years, so thinking ahead for four years about education, transport, social services and crime is just as important as the health issues of the moment. Those elected will face the job of recovery, stretching from the decimated high street to supporting those such as the self-employed, whose income has been badly hit by Covid.

Sue Hackman.

Guildford Labour’s campaign manager Sue Hackman added: “Guildford has the benefit of a first-class electoral services team at Millmead who are well aware of the issues and will do a sterling job of making this a safe vote.

“We strongly advise voters to take out postal votes and to read election literature carefully, because face-to-face contact will be limited. This will not be a campaign like any other. Now, more than ever, we urge local people to vote for the communal good.”

Sallie Barker.

Sallie Barker, who chairs Guildford Conservatives, said: As Chloe Smith MP, Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, said last month: ‘Safe and secure elections are the cornerstone of any democracy,’ and so we fully support the government’s wish to deliver the elections in May.

“For those who are worried or vulnerable, the government’s well-thought-out election delivery plan will ensure that we know what a Covid-secure polling day will look like and the government has also allocated additional funding for local authorities to help deliver them.

“This funding will help councils get the venues, staffing and equipment they need to make sure that residents who choose to attend polling stations can do so safely. And those who do not want to take part in person will be able to, with proxy voting and postal voting also available.

“As well as residents being asked to bring their own pen or pencil and to wear face masks inside polling stations (which will be cleaned regularly), there will be new proxy voting rules to ensure that anyone who has been asked to self-isolate will be able to get an emergency proxy vote and participate in the local elections without leaving home.

“Many of these elections have been delayed by a year already, but around the world major elections have and are going ahead as planned – showing that Covid-secure elections are achievable.”

Cllr Ramsey Nagaty.

The leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG), Cllr Ramsey Nagaty (Shalford ward), said: “I think a lot of people will be concerned to go out to vote let alone to enter a building full of other people in order to vote.

“GGG is therefore sending out a repeated message to residents to apply for a postal vote and to be sure to use it.

“This seems like the sensible way forward and in this respect GGG have posted on our website, and Facebook page.

“As well, we are contacting parish clerks to ask if a non-party political poster could go up on their parish council notice boards with the details for residents to ensure they are on the Electoral List and registered for a postal vote.

“GGG are of course concerned at the potential for irregularities with postal voting but feel the safety aspect must be paramount.

“In this respect, we trust there will be enough volunteers to man the polling stations and for the counting and that their wellbeing must also be considered a top priority.

“We are confident Guildford Borough and Surrey County Council will ensure adequate PPE for all volunteers.”

Fiona Davidson.

A statement from Fiona Davidson, who chairs Residents for Guildford & Villages, said: “We are actively encouraging residents to register for postal votes so that they don’t lose their democratic right, whilst continuing to protect their safety and health.

“We’re also offering to help people who don’t have easy access to the internet or have difficulty registering if they call us on 07585 816291.

“Many people will not feel comfortable about visiting a polling station and as levels of postal voting vary significantly across the borough, even with a significant postal voting campaign, it is likely that many people will effectively be disenfranchised. For this and other reasons, we are opposed to the government’s decision to hold elections on May 6. We believe it’s discriminatory towards both voters and independent candidates.

“Not only will some people be deterred from voting, but the current Covid restrictions mean that door-to-door canvassing and the distribution of election communications other than via the Royal Mail is not allowed.

“Delivery by Royal Mail is extremely expensive and favours the national parties who have significant resources and funds. So, voters are much less likely to be well informed about what small groups and independents stand for, and are proposing.

“Independents do not compete on a level playing field in normal elections – the government’s decision on what is and is not allowable during this campaign creates an even greater disadvantage.

“We have written to Chloe Smith MP to express these concerns and to request that the date is reconsidered or that the exaggerated disadvantages of this election are remedied.”

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