After the government confirmed this week that local government and other elections will be going ahead as planned on May 6, a council spokesman has said that preparations are well underway for the poll. All Isle of Wight Council seats and many on town and parish councils will be up for grabs and Islanders will also be voting for a new Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner.
An Isle of Wight Council spokesman said: “There are 72 polling stations required and bookings have been made for all of the venues required. At the present time enough staff have been identified to operate both polling stations and the count, although this will continue to be monitored.
“Locally, we will be promoting the postal and proxy voting arrangements, especially for those who may be unable to leave their homes to vote. Currently 15 per cent of the Island’s population already have postal or proxy voting arrangements in place and, if residents wish to use this method, they are encouraged to register at the earliest opportunity.”
However, Our Island, a group seeking to remove the influence of national political parties at County Hall, accused the Conservative administration of trying to remain in power by discouraging people from voting.
A suggestion by Cllr. Bob Blezzard that postal vote application forms be included with the council tax bills shortly to be sent out was dismissed by Cllr. Brian Tyndall, cabinet member for resources, who said it was ‘due to the complexity of administration required and potential for confusion by residents in the receipt of blanket communications’.
A spokesman for Our Island said: “This is an important election as we will be selecting the politicians who will be responsible for the process of pulling things back together in the years after the pandemic. Many parts of the community will not have received a Covid vaccination by the time of the vote and people will be concerned about avoiding the risk of infection in polling stations. The use of postal votes will be more important than ever and will help keep everyone safe.
“Councillor Tyndall’s response suggests that the Conservatives have no wish to encourage and support the democratic process. There is no complexity in including one more piece of paper in an envelope that is already being sent out to all households on the Island. It is also offensive for Councillor Tyndall to suggest this would confuse people.
“Our Island want to see as many people as possible voting in May but being able to do so safely. We hope that people who are similarly concerned will put pressure on the Council to reverse this perverse decision.”
Plans to ensure public safety while voting include:
• Social distancing measures with marshalling arrangements where necessary,
• Face coverings to be worn (unless medically exempt) in polling stations and at the count,
• Hand sanitiser made available with frequent touch points cleaned at regular intervals,
• Voters encouraged to bring their own pen or pencil,
• Protective screens in polling stations and at the count,
• Ventilation maximised as much as possible.
The Government has announced £92 million to cover the cost of these elections but it is not yet clear how much the Island will receive.