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Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission

Volume 687: debated on Thursday 21 January 2021

The hon. Member for City of Chester, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Covid-19: May Elections

What steps the Committee is taking to ensure the safe conduct of elections planned for May 2021 during the covid-19 outbreak. (911083)

The commission believes that it is an important democratic principle that elections should proceed as scheduled whenever possible. To ensure that can happen in May, the commission is working closely with electoral administrators, political parties and other campaigners to provide the necessary support and guidance, informed by the latest public health advice. The commission’s objective is for voters to be able to participate in the polls, campaigners and parties to be able to put their case to the electorate, and electoral administration staff to be able to run the polling stations and count centres safely and competently.

Looking at the electoral procedures to be followed, though, we can all see areas, such as the collection of nomination signatures, where there is potential for unnecessary face-to-face contact. Surely this is a moment when we can look at doing these things differently, but if we are to make any changes in time for May, that work would need to be done now. Can the hon. Gentleman tell me whether that work is being done by the commission?

The commission is undertaking work to ensure that the elections can proceed in May in as safe a way as possible, and is working with electoral administrators to achieve that. They will be following public health advice, but at this stage, as the elections are going ahead in May, there is little time to make changes to some of the procedures before those elections.

Has the Electoral Commission looked at the possibility of having all-postal ballots, or, failing that, at least providing households with postal vote application forms and a freepost return service, so that anyone who wants to vote in May’s elections—as everyone should—is able to do so safely and without any financial barriers?

May I take this opportunity to wish my hon. Friend a very happy birthday?

The commission has highlighted that there would be significant practical challenges in delivering an all-postal election in May. In particular, collecting personal identifiers from all eligible electors, which is a key part of important security checks, is not practicable in the time available. The commission considers that, where possible, voters should be able to choose how they wish to cast their vote, including having the option to do so in person. It will make available all options to proceed as safely as possible for the elections in May. Whether the elections continue in May is a matter for the UK Government and the Governments of the devolved Administrations.