The report reviews the arrangements for the Elections which took place on 6 May 2021. It provides information, feedback and considers lessons learned.
In the absence of the Chief Executive, the Group Head of Policy presented a detailed report reviewing the arrangements that had been put into place for the Elections held on 6 May 2021 providing information, feedback and lessons learned. It was outlined that these had been the most complicated set of Elections that the Council had been responsible for delivering and administering due to the cancellation of Elections in 2020. Election planning had been very challenging especially given that there had been so much discussion about whether they would even take place. In view of the advanced planning required to arrange elections, planning had commenced in Autumn 2020 and had had to continue based on having at that time no news about a vaccination programme and during the peak of the pandemic. Planning had therefore continued based on the worst case scenario and upon receiving conflicting advice from different bodies.
Sections 1.9 to 1.13 of the report set out the staffing issues and the Group Head of Policy used this opportunity to again thank those staff members who had been prepared to work. The report had included illustrations so that Councillors who had not had the opportunity to attend postal vote opening or the Count could see the extensive arrangements that had been put into place to maintain safe working. The public had been strongly encouraged to use the postal vote option for voting and numbers had increased by 25% compared to previous years. The Group Head of Policy stated that it would be interesting to see any long term changes from trying different methods would be seen in the future.
A major challenge had been overcoming the difficulty in identifying polling stations as not all used previously were suitable for use under Covid-19 restrictions or following risk assessment did not meet the health and safety instructions issued by the Electoral Commission and other bodies. A reduction in staffing available also meant that not all of the polling stations could be used as there were not enough staff to man them. There had been a few voters who had complained about the location of their polling station, however, most of them had accepted the reason for change and had asked for reassurance that the normal polling stations would be used again in the future, and this had been confirmed.
A main change had been the use of tablets to access an electronic register. Although there had been an error with the tablets at the start of the poll with a very small number of electors being issued with ballot papers they were not entitled to, this had been quickly resolved. The reason for the problem was identified and work is progressing with the tablet software company and the election management software company to ensure that this would not be repeated in the future.
The report set out the plans that had been put into place in organising the verification and counts for the elections which had been held over three days to ensure safe working for staff and those observing.
In summary, despite the major challenges the measures put into place had resulted in successful elections. Due to a massive team effort from the whole of the Council’s staff, the Council had been able to successfully deliver all the Elections. Thanks were passed onto Freedom Leisure and those responsible for the venues for their co-operation and support. In particular, thanks were extended to the Elections Team who had delivered the most complex set of elections under very difficult circumstances.
There had been several successful new ways of working which had had to be used and these would be implemented for future elections.
In considering the report, and in acknowledging the overwhelming difficulties that had been tackled, concern was expressed over polling station locations and the problems that the change in locations had caused with elderly and more frail residents.
This point was acknowledged by the Group Head of Policy who also confirmed that the Council had written to effected voters as early as January 2021 to confirm the changes and to encourage other ways of voting. The Council did the best that it could in the circumstances with this experience proving that a large majority of the electorate still wished to vote in person. The Committee was advised that the Council constanty kept the location of Polling Stations under review and that it would be looking at this again prior to local Elections in 2023 as resident numbers and polling station venues could change. It was important for Members to accept that the Council could not always keep the same polling station venues but that lessons would be learned from issues discussed and identified by the report.
Having reviewed the information presented and having made various comments, the Committee thanked the Group Head of Policy for the report, and it thanked the Election Team and all Council staff for their involvement and hard work.