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What are the challenges of a winter election?

PUBLISHED: 06:00 09 November 2019 | UPDATED: 09:56 12 November 2019

The White Horse pub at Beyton as a polling station. Picture: PAULINE SUGGATE

The White Horse pub at Beyton as a polling station. Picture: PAULINE SUGGATE

Archant

With the first December General Election since 1923, returning officers face an additional series of challenges on top of those normally experienced.

Stephen Baker, East Suffolk Council chief executive, said the council had a loyal band of volunteers for polling day  Picture: SIMON PARKERStephen Baker, East Suffolk Council chief executive, said the council had a loyal band of volunteers for polling day Picture: SIMON PARKER

The shorter daylight, colder weather and availability of volunteers are all additional considerations the councils organising the polls and the counts are having to make.

While it has been decades since a winter General Election, the councils have had some recent experience of the difficulties at the first ever police and crime commissioner elections held in November 2012.

In some parts of Suffolk that day there was snow on the ground, which went some way to explaining the low voter turnout - less than 15% was the national average.

The earlier darkness that comes with winter (3.51pm on December 12 according to sunsettimes.co.uk) means people could be put off voting, as could the weather if it is particularly cold, raining or snowing.

Don't rule out seeing more polling stations like Bury Town FC. Picture: WEST SUFFOLK COUNCILDon't rule out seeing more polling stations like Bury Town FC. Picture: WEST SUFFOLK COUNCIL

Stephen Baker, chief executive of East Suffolk Council who will be returning officer for the Waveney count this year, said: "It may well affect the flow of voters in the polling station.

"Some people find it more difficult to get out and about, so we have to take that into account.

"Nobody wants a low turnout because that's a demographic deficit."

Alongside the consideration of voters, pulling together the kind of numbers needed to man polling stations and count votes can be a Herculean task.

East Suffolk has 195 polling stations to serve around 190,000 electors, each of which are open from 7am to 10pm and require at least a presiding officer and poll clerk to be present.

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Add on top of that the porters delivering the full ballot boxes to secure locations and the scores of staff needed to count the votes into the night, and the East Suffolk district alone is looking at a team of 650 people.

So has recruitment been an issue?

"It's been a little bit [ of a struggle] because people have other things to do just before Christmas," Mr Baker said.

"Generally we have a very loyal team who are happy to turn out, but it's not the best time of year."

Alongside the numbers there is a duty of care to each and every one of those. Churches and village halls are not often known for their heat-retaining abilities, and some polling stations even require money-in-the-meter to keep the heating on - challenges not normally seen in May polls.

Another consideration voters need to be aware of is what their polling station will be this year.

They may well think they know where their station is having taken part in both local and European elections since May, but some polling stations will be changing.

Schools will still be in term time, meaning most are likely to be replaced for this election, while even village halls may need to change if events are already booked.

Pubs in Beyton and Beck Row, a nursing home in Saxtead and a football club in Bury St Edmunds were among the more unusual polling stations used in May, and if some locations are having to change because of pre-booked events, don't rule out other equally strange places cropping up.

But as is the nature of elections, work will go on quietly behind the scenes to make sure everything is in place for the big day - postal votes, pencils, polling cards and staff. The only thing that can't be planned is the outcome.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about the 2019 General Election

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