Agenda item

Review of Elections 2021

To consider the attached report reviewing the elections held in May 2021.



The Team Manager – Democratic and Electoral Services, G Woodhall, introduced the report on the May 2021 elections. This report reviewed the planning processes and implementation of the following elections held on 6 May 2021:


            (a)        Police, Fire & Crime Commissioner for Essex;


            (b)        County Council;


            (c)        District Council;


            (d)        Parish & Town Councils.       


In the opinion of the Returning Officer, the planning, management and delivery of all relevant processes for these elections was effective, especially given the circumstances under which these elections were held. The management and delivery of these elections had been reviewed by the Elections Planning Group – chaired by the Returning Officer – and any issues arising had been included within the report. Candidates and Agents involved in these elections had also been consulted and their responses were summarised within the report.


Due to the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic in the Spring of 2020, the elections due for the Essex Police, Fire & Crime Commissioner, 21 wards of the District Council and 14 of the District’s Town and Parish Councils were postponed from their original date of May 2020. In time, the Government decided to hold these elections in May 2021, and they were combined with the elections already scheduled for this date for Essex County Council.


The United Kingdom was still under restrictions due to the pandemic, when these elections were held. This necessitated certain changes to the arrangements for operating Polling Stations, with ‘one-way’ systems being used for larger stations or a ‘one-in-one-out’ system for the smaller stations. The operation of the Count also had to be re-thought, as there was a requirement to ensure that the Count Staff were socially distanced from each other whilst counting. In addition, with four elections being held simultaneously, the Count could not be completed in one session. Therefore, the Council could not use its normal venue of Debden Park High School, and the use of an aircraft hangar at North Weald Airfield from Weald Aviation was secured.


Finally, it was noted that the Council had also recently received notification that the Local Government Boundary Commission for England intended to undertake a full review of the Council’s size in terms of the number of Councillors and ward boundaries, which would culminate in all-out District Council elections in May 2024. The Council was overdue a review as the last such exercise took place in 1998. A briefing for Members would be held in the Autumn to provide further information.


Councillor Neville thanked the election team for enabling the elections to be run smoothly that day. He was not keen on the use of the Hanger as it had heating issues, but he was not sure the that the conference suite would be big enough.  He was glad the virtual briefing was well received and had greater numbers attending. It was a tough set of elections with so many in one day; but a good test run if we had to do it again.


Councillor Lion concurred with Councillor Neville, everything ran smoothly and was managed effectively. The hanger was cold, but we had to have the verification that night. Officers did a splendid job, especially Wendy Macleod (Senior Electoral Services Officer) who made things happen. He was unsure what could be learnt from this as it was a unique situation.


Councillor Janet Whitehouse said it was an important report and she congratulated everyone involved. Unfortunately, she missed the item in the Bulletin asking for comments. She would like to have any new Councillors voted in, identified and introduced on the night. She also had concerns that were also raised in the report about using staff at the polling stations and at the count, what did other authorities do? Mr Woodhall replied that it was not so much the fact that we are the only council that used staff, but more the way our various teams worked (well) together, such as the Corporate Communications Team. Also, not everyone who worked on the elections were council staff. Ms Macleod added it was to do with the integration with elections with other departments such as facilities ensuring that staff had access to the offices late at night to bring equipment back; other councils did not have that helpfulness from other departments, whereas we are very lucky to have this cooperation within the council.


Councillor H Kane congratulated the officers concerned, especially Ms Macleod’s team and everyone who manned the Polling Stations. It had been a very difficult year, but it all worked very smoothly. It was very cold in the hanger, but there was nothing we could we do about that.


Councillor Bassett asked if the use of postal votes had increased from last year; what percentage was it at now. Also, when were they sent out and when did they have to come back. He was told that they had only seen a slight increase; they were expecting a larger one because of Covid. Over time it had grown steadily and was now between 10 and 15%, as it varied considerably due to what type of elections we were having. Ballot packs could be returned up to 10pm on election day. They went out two weeks before election day, the day after the deadline for registration for postal vote applications.


Councillor Bassett then asked if there was any delayed post that came in late. He was told that officers had not seen any increase this year; there were always a few. The Post Office did a sweep whereby they delivered to us any that had been posted on election day.


Councillor Morgan asked if there was any more information on the local boundary review. He was told that this was just beginning now, officers had their first meeting with the Local Government Boundary Commission last week and were now looking for a date to hold a group leaders meeting and then a members briefing; preferably on the same night. They would be looking at the number of Councillors and at the Ward boundaries. Our last review was in 1998 so we were overdue for one. There will be public and member consultations, which will culminate in all out elections in 2024.


Councillor Murray expressed his concern over a polling station in his Loughton Roding ward which saw large queues building up and long waiting times. This problem seemed unique to this station and as far as he knew did not happen elsewhere. His formal comments had been reproduced in the report along with the election teams reply.


Mr Small noted that this had been a perfect storm for the election this year with multiple elections and Covid. His overall impression was that it had been carried out extremely well given the circumstances, making sure people were socially distanced and Covid safe in buildings they were just not designed for this type of use. Most stations had queues at different points of the day. It was a difficult thing to manage and difficult to anticipate and we never really knew how some of the sites would operate while trying to maintain distancing at the same time. If we did it again, we would know a lot better.  The hanger was mentioned, we were grateful to have such a large space, but it was a very large space to heat. We do as a Council rely heavily on council staff to help us on the day and for the other volunteers. He had not seen the successful candidates introduced at any other elections he had attended but knew that it did happen at national elections but not at local ones, just because of the time it took to do. The thanks we get from members to the staff was really appreciated and he wanted to add his thanks to them as well.


Councillor H Kane noted that there were some isolated cases where things did not run so smoothly, and we should take some lessons from them.


Councillor Murray still did not think he had received an adequate explanation but would be happy to receive this away from the meeting.  He went on to say that if he were part of this committee, he would be asking for a report on the new legislation coming on election law, especially on voter ID and the financial implications, coming in and how they would affect the council.


Councillor S Kane noted that there had been queues in Waltham Abbey, particularly at one large Polling Station responsible for many thousands of voters. Problems were caused by the internal design of the building which we had no control over. Generally, people seemed content with this and accepted this with their usual stoicism with no dissent shown.


Councillor Neville proposed that the Committee receive a report on the consequences of voter ID and any cost implications. This was agreed by the Committee.




(1)        The Committee reviewed the management and delivery of the Elections held on 6 May 2021;


(2)        The Committee considered any proposals of the Returning Officer for changes to the arrangements for the management and delivery of Elections in future years;


(3)        No specific recommendations were made to the Returning Officer for further changes to the future management and delivery of Elections; and


(4)        That the impending review of the size of the Council and ward boundaries by the Local Government Boundary Commission for England was noted; and


(5)        A report be brought to a future meeting on the consequences of voter ID and any financial implications this may involve.



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