Don’t be complacent about democracy

Wednesday, 10 February, 2021

Among the 100 or so services that East Hampshire District Council provides one of the most sacred is the management of elections.

We have seen on the world stage in recent months how vital it is that the public faith in elections is not shaken and they are executed professionally and accurately.

In this country we have great trust in the electoral process but if this were eroded it would be a fatal blow to our democracy. After all, if no-one accepted the results as free and fair then we would not vote, we would not recognise the authority of the winners and, eventually, we would not hold any more elections.

The management of elections is a responsibility that district councils like mine accept with solemnity and meticulous care. It is our job to make sure the job is done right, in an open and accessible way, so that everyone is satisfied with the process - if not always with the result.

Local elections are planned for this May and the government has recently reiterated that it expects them to go ahead, despite a postponement last year due to coronavirus.

We will be able to cast our votes for Hampshire County Councillors and a Police and Crime Commissioner, with one or two district council areas holding bye-elections too.

It is unlikely we will be significantly freer from the disease this May than we were last, despite the excellent progress of the vaccine roll-out, and that will add another layer of complication for our election team and for the voters.

Safety is paramount of course. Painstaking planning will minimise the risk of infection. Our polling stations, a motley assortment of village halls, school buildings, pubs and more will be laid out to maximise social distancing and to effect queueing or one-way systems.

Hand sanitisers will be provided on entry and mask-wearing will be expected.

None-the-less, it would be understandable if some people are reluctant to venture out to a public place at that time, so it is essential that we do not risk letting the virus put people off casting their ballot.

Turn-out at local elections rarely reaches the levels achieved for the national votes and Hampshire County Council’s last trip to the polls saw turn-outs in this district of between 29 and 41 per cent.

We must find a way of making sure people feel confident and safe enough to take part again or risk even lower public interest.

If you are concerned at all about voting in person due to the Covid pandemic it may be best to use your postal vote this year.

Right now, we are sending out letters to residents reminding them of whether they are currently registered to vote by post. If you are not, the letter will give you instructions on how to go about it. Or you can vote by proxy, where you make the cross yourself but ask a friend of family member to deliver it.

Postal and proxy votes have become increasingly popular over the last five to ten years anyway. But during a pandemic many people may see them as the best option.

But however you prefer to vote, make sure you do so. Don’t be complacent about our democracy. It will only work while it has your trust and your participation.

Please make sure you’re ready to vote come May.

Cllr Richard Millard, Leader of East Hampshire District Counci