DARLINGTON COUNCIL: Covid-safe election plans revealed
PLANS have been laid out to enable mayoral and police commissioner elections to take place in May after numerous complications arose over voting due to the pandemic.
While a host of question marks continues to hang over elections which were postponed from last May, such as whether traditional electioneering will be banned, Darlington Borough Council has moved to establish certainty over the 52 polling stations needed in the area.
Alongside the Tees Valley Mayor and Durham Police and Crime Commissioner elections, some residents will be asked to help shape the borough council’s political make-up in the first test at the polls for the Conservative group which swept to victory almost two years ago.
While Red Hall and Lingfield Ward residents are set to vote following the resignation of Labour councillor Sam Howarth, Conservative Hummersknott ward councillor Paul Howell has previously said he would step down from his council role when it was possible to hold elections after becoming Sedgefield MP.
Cllr Howell, who has faced criticism for trying to juggle the roles of an MP, a Darlington councillor and a Durham County councillor, has until March 29 to step down to enable a by-election to be held in May.
A report to a meeting of the council highlights some of the issues that have been raised by the pandemic.
It states the principal of Queen Elizabeth Sixth Form College has raised concerns over its usual classrooms being used as polling stations due to Covid-19, and potential disruption to systems put in place to keep students and staff safe.
As a result it has been proposed the College ward polling station moves to the college’s sports pavilion on Abbey Road, while Carmel College’s head has requested its site is no longer used as the Hummersknott ward polling station.
The report states: “The principal has raised a number of safeguarding concerns, in respect of the continued use of the hall as a polling station. In addition to those concerns, the hall is currently being used for teaching, as a result of Covid-19, and should the hall be used as a polling station, it would likely meant that the college would have to close for the day.”
The council said electors would be notified of any changes to their polling stations on their polling cards and information will be included on the Council’s Website, One Darlington Magazine and social media on the run-up to polling day.
To improve polling station safety voters will be asked to bring their own pens and the government is giving councils an extra £31m for plastic screens in polling stations and hand sanitiser.
The council added the Government may issue further guidance over use of polling stations during the elections to maximise safety and that some polling stations may become unavailable if they cannot meet the regulations.
Words: Stuart Minting, Local Democracy Reporter
Watch the channel on TV