Politicians fear local elections could be delayed again after lockdown

Ipswich election count 2019

The election count at Ipswich in December 2019. But when will the polling booths open again? - Credit: Brittany Woodman

Political leaders in Suffolk believe it may be impossible to hold local elections as planned at the beginning of May - and that polling day could be delayed until the autumn.

If elections are held in the spring, they could look very different - with residents facing social distancing rules and many more being encouraged to vote by post or proxy.

Last year's polls for police and crime commissioners and some seats on Ipswich and Colchester councils were put off for 12 months.

On May 6, there are due to be elections for PCCs, county councils, some boroughs and a handful of by-elections that have been put off since last year.

Ipswich council chief executive Russell Williams also acts as returning officer for the borough and would have to organise all the elections in the town.

He said: "We are expecting to hear from the Cabinet Office and the Electoral Commission about how the elections can be run - and will be looking at what will happen in the light of that."

Politicians are watching the electoral situation closely.

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Former Suffolk County Council leader Mark Bee is agent for many Conservative candidates across the county - and is preparing for whatever the government decides.

He said: "The government position at present is that the election will go ahead - but I suspect it might be put off until the summer or the autumn.

"The speculation I have heard is that it could be delayed until early July. If it is not, then it could be delayed six months."

Suffolk police and crime commissioner Tim Passmore said he had brought up the issue with elections during a Zoom meeting with the policing minister earlier this month.

"I was told the government is determined to go ahead with the elections if at all possible.

"I really hope that it is possible - but if it isn't they should take the decision as soon as possible.

"I think the decision should be taken by February because it takes a lot of organising.

"If it has to be delayed until June or July, then so be it - if not in September or October. My first PCC election was in November and I don't want voting to be that late again!"

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