Ipswich residents to be invited to apply for postal votes

Polling Station at Christchurch Park, Ipswich

There are likely to be far fewer polling stations this year - so residents are being urged to apply for postal votes. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Every voter in Ipswich will be invited to apply for a postal vote in this year's local elections which are due to be held at the beginning of May in an attempt to avoid major problems at polling stations.

Letters are due to be sent out to households across the town next week containing an application form for every voter - which only has to have a few details filled in and a signature to be sent a postal vote as the election approaches.

Returning officer and borough council chief executive Russell Williams decided on the strategy because of the difficulty in finding enough Covid-secure polling stations and because staff are reluctant to volunteer for long shifts wearing compulsory face coverings in public buildings.

Returning officers are not allowed to decree that an election has to be all postal-voting, but they are allowed to make it as easy as possible for residents to obtain postal votes. Any voter can apply for a postal vote for any election - you do not have to give a reason for your application.

Ipswich is the only council in Suffolk to take this step for the elections which are due to be held on May 6 - but other councils are writing to voters they know who were considered vulnerable during the pandemic suggesting they apply for postal votes.

And none of the other districts have ruled out following Ipswich's lead if they become more concerned about polling stations.

Ballot box

Traditional polling stations will be thin on the ground this year. - Credit: PA file picture

This year there are long-planned elections for the county council and elections for new police and crime commissioners postponed from last May. In Ipswich there are also postponed elections for a third of the borough council - and there are a number of by-elections scheduled across the county.

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The government has made it clear it expects the elections to go ahead - albeit in a different form to usual polls - and it will be publishing guidance on how to conduct election counts soon.

In Suffolk the counts are expected to take place on successive days over the weekend following the Thursday election - there is unlikely to be any overnight counting and the counts for individual divisions and electoral wards may take place in different rooms.

What the politicians say

Political parties on Ipswich council have been told about the attempt to persuade as many as possible to apply for postal votes.

John Cook

Labour agent John Cook feels there is no alternative to postal votes - but would have liked to see the elections delayed by two months. - Credit: James Fletcher Photography Ltd

Labour agent John Cook said: "I would still have preferred to see the elections put off for a couple of months so hopefully it isn't so necessary to worry about Covid and social distancing.

"But if they do have to go ahead in May it makes sense to get as much voting by post as possible because it could well be difficult to vote in person at fewer polling station and possibly long queues to get in."

Ian Fisher

Conservative group leader Ian Fisher hoped this year's issues would lead to a change in the way people vote - and votes are counted. - Credit: Ipswich Borough Council

The opposition leader on the borough council, Ian Fisher, said there was no real alternative to seeking more postal votes this year. He said: "I'm not normally a fan of postal votes, but given all the problems with polling stations and social distancing this year, then I think it's right to encourage as many people as possible to use them.

"But I hope this encourages the government and everyone else to look at alternative methods of voting that are more modern in the 21st century - like electronic voting and counting."

Cllr Inga Lockington

Inga Lockington urged people to apply for postal votes for May's election. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Ipswich Liberal Democrat Inga Lockington agreed: "If there have to be elections in May then I would urge everyone to get a postal vote. It will be much safer for voters and for the people who have to deal with their votes - the polling station staff and those counting the votes."