Local elections update: Canvassing resumes, but covid fears and voter ID plans cause concern

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Another week and another update as we move closer to the May elections. There are officially eight weeks left until Thursday May 6. 

Door-to-door canvassing resumes

Monday marked the return of door-to-door canvassing as candidates look to garner support for their campaigns.

Holly Whitebread, a conservative councillor in Epping Forest, has been one campaigner taking advantage of the relaxation to rules.

It is not a complete return to normalcy. Campaigners must still observe the 2m social distancing rule and are not allowed to enter houses. Authorities have also encouraged organisers to limit the number of campaigners they send door-to-door to a minimum.

Last week we spoke extensively about the restrictions which have been put in place because of the pandemic.

For campaigners, there have been changes to the usual playbook in order to build momentum while in lockdown.

Among these has been the additional emphasis on Phone banking. This has meant that candidates have been able to continue to drum up support over lockdown.

In our recent interview with Josh Babirande, who is running for election to the local council in Eastbourne, he also stated that lockdown had compelled him and his team to ‘think innovatively’ about how to reach potential voters.

Concerns over the impact the virus may have on election day turnout

First, let’s put the obvious aside - the chances of us seeing this headline again in the lead up to the election are very high. So high that it may seem like an afterthought, but it’s important to document nonetheless. 

There is particular concern over how this could shift the needle for young people. Chloe Chaplain of iNews highlights a joint poll of 1,492 people conducted by HOPE not hate and the National Education Union. It found that over 1/4 respondents admitted to being less likely to vote in person due to covid.

She also states that this figure rose sharply for respondents who were Asian, black or mixed race. 

It [the HOPE not hate and National Education Union survey] found that 26 per cent of respondents felt the Covid-19 situation made them less likely to go to the polling station in person to vote in the May election.

This figure rose dramatically to 41 per cent of respondents with Asian heritage, 40 per cent of black people and 38 per cent of those who are mixed race.

People between the age of 18 and 25-years-old were also more likely to stay away, with 42 per cent saying they were less likely to attend compared with 19 per cent of 55 to 64-year-olds.

Almost three quarters of those surveyed said more should be done to make voting by post or proxy easier with 74 per cent agreeing councils should send absent ballots automatically to every voter – rather than just those who have registered for them.

~ as quoted by Chloe Chaplain, from iNews

Despite rates of infection beginning to lower, the virus is still taking a visible toll on the country. Given that Step 3 of the lockdown easing schedule will be arriving no earlier than May 17th, our best-case scenario would see the country at Step 2 where non-essential retail, and some outdoor settings reopen.

The government will hope that the public’s confidence will have grown between now and 6 May. But, in the event this doesn’t occur, and given the likelihood that we will see an increased reliance on postal voting it begs the question whether a revision to the date for postal registration could help in the lead up to the day?

Voter ID plans cause concern

While we’re yet to get through 2021, new plans calling for photo identification before members of the public can cast their ballot have been poorly received by campaigners. The new laws are set to come into place in 2023 and are being adopted to safeguard against voter fraud.

The legislative changes are part of the new Electoral Integrity bill. A cabinet office spokesperson announced the measures toward the end of February:

“We will be introducing new measures, as part of the Government’s manifesto commitment, to prevent the potential for voter fraud in our electoral system.

“This will further strengthen the integrity of UK elections, and will include ID checks at the polling station and rules that prevent abuse of postal and proxy votes.”

However, many are rightly pointing out the potential pitfalls of the measures for individuals from minority backgrounds. 

Haroon Siddique of The Guardian cites the response from Patricia Stapleton, the current policy manager at the Traveller Movement. She warns the bill will ‘further marginalise and deter people from these communities from voting’.

2018 trials by the Electoral Reform Society were highlighted by Sam Grant, head of policy and campaigns at Liberty. They found that the government’s voter ID pilot resulted in ‘twice as many people being blocked from voting than there were cases of voter fraud in the preceding seven years’. In the same report, The Electoral Reform Society compared the use of voter ID-s to tackle voter fraud as being equivalent to using ‘a sledgehammer to crack a nut’.

A topic, definitely in need of a deep dive at a later date. That’s this week’s round-up of local election news.

39 days until April 19 -  the registration deadline 

40 days until April 20 - postal vote application deadline

56 days until May 6 - election day 

Mayowa Ayodele

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