Tomorrow, Thursday 6th May, is Election Day and thanks to COVID-19, it is going to be rather unusual.
Due to last years’ elections being postponed we now have several council elections at once. So, when you go to vote you will be voting on who will represent you on Crawley Borough Council, on West Sussex County Council, and as Police and Crime Commissioner (Furnace Green is the odd-one-out as it has no borough council seat up this year).
Both West Sussex County Council and the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner are currently Conservative. Crawley Borough Council isn’t currently controlled by any party, with 16 Conservative, 15 Labour, 2 Independents (elected as Labour) and 2 vacant seats. With just 14 out of 36 council seats up for election this year, the only possible outcomes from this election are a Labour council, a Conservative council, or continued stalemate.
Because there are also by-elections happening in Ifield and Tilgate, electors in those areas will get to vote for two candidates on their Crawley Borough Council ballot paper. The first-placed candidate will get the full four-year term and the second-placed candidate will get the rest of the vacant seat’s term.
Police and Crime Commissioner ballot papers are also unusual, because the votes are counted in two rounds. In the first column you can vote for your favourite candidate, but if they aren’t one of the top two candidates the second column enables you to vote for whichever of the most likely top two candidates you would prefer.
At every Police and Crime Commissioner election in Sussex so far, only the Labour and Conservative candidates have made the second round. At both the last Crawley Borough Council and West Sussex County Council election, Labour and Conservative candidates were the top two contenders in every seat, with no third party candidate coming close to winning a ward.
Polling stations are open from 7am to 10pm. Due to COVID-19, there are special procedures in place at polling stations: sterilising voting areas and controlling the numbers voting at any one time. So, don’t be surprised if there’s a bit of a queue. While it should be possible for people to get in and vote quickly, please try to go at a quieter time and come prepared in case there’s a queue. Remember, if you like to vote last thing, so long as you’ve joined a queue by 10pm you have to be allowed to vote.
To reduce the risk to the public, all the parties in Crawley have agreed not to have people standing at polling stations this year. It’s not the law, so we can’t force people to follow this agreement, but it is a matter of honour and if anyone is seen breaking that agreement I’d encourage voters to think about what it says that they didn’t keep to their word.
You don’t need your polling card to vote, but you will need your mask–unless you are medically exempt, and while the council is planning on having enough pencils for each likely voter, we are recommending that people bring their own pencil or pen just in case.
Most postal voters have already returned their ballots, but if you haven’t managed to post them yet, completed postal ballot packs can still be handed in on the day at any Crawley polling station, either by yourself or someone else on your behalf. Any lost or spoilt postal votes can be replaced by up to 5pm tomorrow by getting in touch with the council. It is also possible to arrange for someone else to cast an emergency proxy vote on your behalf under certain circumstances (such as being unable to vote due to being required to the Coronavirus), so long as this is done before 5pm tomorrow by contacting the council).
Once polling stations are closed the ballot boxes will be held securely by the council overnight (parties are allowed to send representatives to observe this should they choose), before being validated at 9am to on Friday to ensure the number of votes in each box matches the records for the number of ballot papers issued. Crawley Borough Council’s count will begin at 10am, concluding in the late afternoon, after which the West Sussex County Council votes will be counted.
The Police and Crime Commissioner count has been postponed until Monday, with counting taking place in each local authority area simultaneously and the final tabulation based at Brighton and Hove City Council. Special procedures are also being used at the count to protect people’s safety, with social distancing measures and lateral flow testing of those attending the count. While this is only an obligation for those involved in the counting of the votes, parties have all agreed (again, as a matter of honour) that their representatives attending the count will do the same.
For candidates and their supporters, tomorrow is going to be a very long day, over the course of which we will be reminding people that it is Election Day and that it is important to get out and vote. We have procedures in place to do this with the minimum amount of risk, but if you have any issues with what you’ve seen a particular campaigner do then please get in touch with their party so that action can be taken.
Here’s hoping that tomorrow is a dry day and many thanks for doing your democratic duty.
Cllr Peter Lamb
Leader, Crawley Borough Council