The Tories are refusing to spend any money to run elections safely during the pandemic

The UK ‘needs to follow international examples’ and invest to ensure ballots are run safely.

Polling station sign

Experts are raising the alarm because the government has ring-fenced zero funds to ensure next May’s elections are run in a covid-secure way. The UK ‘needs to follow international examples’ and invest to ensure ballots are run safely, warn the academics.

In a Local Government Chronicle article, election experts Alistair Clark and Toby James contrast the UK approach with the US’s, which allocated $400million to adapt their election to pandemic circumstances. They cited the examples of South Korea that spent $16million on PPE in their own elections whereas Sri Lanka spent between $32million and $37million on hand sanitiser and other health measures.

Next year’s UK election rounds will include the postponed from May 7 2020 local, mayoral and Police and Crime Commissioner elections, as well as the Welsh and Scottish parliamentary ballots.

The ‘significant challenge’ covid will pose to electoral administrators include staffing polling stations during a pandemic, provision of PPE and sanitiser, and the ability to adequately clean all polling stations. Other potential hurdles are mask wearing enforcement, long queues due to social distancing and an expected increase in post and proxy voting.

In a 15 September letter to returning officers and electoral registration officers, Minister of State for the Constitution and Devolution Chloe Davis made it clear that the government did not intend to provide extra funds to safely conduct the elections. The Tory MP pointed to the £3.7billion given to local authorities to deal with the pandemic in general, and that it was their responsibility to fund the elections.

The academics, who are running the National Recovery and Resilience: Learning from Elections During a Pandemic called that move ‘unacceptable’. Since many of the costs of running local elections are a result of government decisions, central government should also pick up the tab on pandemic mitigation, especially given the the amount would ‘barely figure’ in overall government covid spending.

Local authority budgets, already under pressure from lack of government support and a decade of austerity have been further depleted because of Covid.

The article authors called on the Cabinet Office to stop being ‘parsimonious on funding elections’ during the public health emergency.

“The health of millions of voters, staff and administrators is at stake, not to mention local democracy.  It should immediately make sufficient funds available for the necessary Covid-19 mitigations and the safe conduct of all elections that it is responsible for overseeing,” they wrote.

They further urged the devolved Scottish and Welsh administrations to take similar action for their respective elections.

Sophia Dourou is a freelance journalist

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