How elections will be different this year - and why postal votes are encouraged

Ipswich council Chief Executive Russell Williams

Ipswich council returning officer and chief executive Russell Williams. - Credit: David Garrad

As letters inviting residents to apply for postal votes land on the doorsteps of homes across Ipswich, borough chief executive and returning officer Russell Williams explains why this year's elections will be different to normal - and why more postal votes could make life easier for voters and election organisers.

6th May 2021. Yes, it is my father’s 80th birthday but it is also the first Thursday in May and therefore it is ‘election day’ in Ipswich.

There are elections every May in Ipswich. Covid-19 prevented it from happening in 2020 but it will be happening again this year.

I’ve been the person in charge of running the election process in the town since the 2010 elections – and this year will be completely different from anything I have ever experienced before.

This is the first of a series of articles I will be writing for the Star over the next couple of months explaining some things about elections and their organisation.

Today, I’m going to focus on ‘postal voting’.

Each year my team sets up about 70 polling stations spread across our town. These are then staffed by about 150 people and most voters have tended to choose to vote at one of them. This year, our polling stations are likely to be very different – due to Covid.

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Some of our normal polling stations may not be available and some will not be used if it is not considered possible to make them ‘Covid-secure’ – so we may well end up with different or fewer polling stations. Those that we do have, will probably all have screens to keep people apart and will require masks to be worn. There might well be longer (and socially distanced) queues at polling stations this year.

For decades people have been able to opt to vote by post. Roughly 17,000 people in Ipswich vote by post every year – our of about 100,000 people on our electoral register. I’m hoping there will be far more postal voters this year. It is a more Covid-Secure way of voting and it will take the pressure of our polling stations. We know some will be nervous about going to polling stations despite them being Covid-Secure.

Yesterday I posted out a letter to all 60,000 homes in the town giving all voters more information about this year’s election and I included the relevant postal vote form and a ‘freepost’ return envelope.

I have never done this before – but I am doing it this year - with the support of all political parties with councillors on the Borough Council (Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats).

Why not take five minutes and apply for a postal vote.

All you need to do to complete the form is to tell us your date of birth and provide a signature and we will then process the application and then send your vote in the post – which is likely to be with you before the end of April. You would then just need to complete the form and vote and return it to us. It really is simple.

You can return it via a freepost envelope that we will provide – or deliver it to our Grafton House office. If you do sign up for this year, you don’t need to use a postal vote every year – this could just be a one-off and you could easily return to voting at a polling station next year.

In my next piece, I will explain how many staff I employ to run each year’s election and the various jobs they do.

And, no, sadly I won’t be joining my father to celebrate his birthday (in Wales) – even if it were allowed by Covid rules – I will be in Ipswich working on the election.

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