The Electoral Commission has recommended local elections be postponed, saying there are “real risks” to holding votes in May.
The independent body has advocated ministers put off the votes until the autumn due to the “unprecedented times” surrounding the coronavirus outbreak.
Mayoral, council and police and crime commissioner candidates are due to contest an election on May 7.
Weâve written to the UK Government to recommend that the May polls be postponed until the autumn as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. This is due to growing risks to the delivery of the polls & to mitigate the impact on voters, campaigners & electoral administrators.— Electoral Commission (@ElectoralCommUK) March 12, 2020
The commission’s plea comes only hours after London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who is campaigning to secure a second term at City Hall, told LBC radio that chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty had assured him there was “no logical reason to postpone or cancel elections”.
But in a letter to constitution minister Chloe Smith, the commission said voters could be put off participating due to contamination fears around the deadly virus.
Two more deaths on Thursday were announced in British hospitals and the number of UK coronavirus cases reached almost 600.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in a sombre press conference in Downing Street, warned that coronavirus was the “worst public health crisis for a generation”.
On the available information and position, we recommend the Government now delay the 7 May polls until the autumnElectoral Commission
Bob Posner, the commission’s chief executive, wrote: “Clearly any decisions to delay elections which are due is significant and would not normally be desirable. However, we are in unprecedented times.
“The risks to delivery that have been identified are such that we cannot be confident that voters will be able to participate in the polls safely and confidently, nor that campaigners and parties will be able to put their case to the electorate.
“We therefore call on the Government to take steps to provide early clarity to all those with an interest in the electoral process.
“And on the available information and position we recommend the Government now delay the May 7 polls until the autumn.”
Mr Posner said a decision was needed “now” so local authorities knew “whether to proceed with the scheduled polls”.
The Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA) had on Wednesday warned there might be insufficient staff to keep all polling stations open due to Covid-19 sickness or self-isolation.
AEA chief executive Peter Stanyon said guidance was required from ministers on how to sanitise polling stations and revealed that some temporary staff were turning down polling station work due to the risk of contracting the virus.
According to Labour’s Mr Khan, Prof Whitty said more of the electorate could opt to vote by postal ballot and that pencils used to mark preferences on ballot papers could be wiped down after each use.
Mr Khan, following the publication of the Electoral Commission’s letter, tweeted: “As with all issues relating to coronavirus, it’s crucial we follow the expert advice of the chief medical officer and Public Health England.
As with all issues relating to Coronavirus, it's crucial we follow the expert advice of the Chief Medical Officer and Public Health England. I await official advice from the Government who, with Parliament, will take the final decision on whether to delay the May elections. https://t.co/zrJCj6pvyK— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) March 12, 2020
“I await official advice from the Government who, with Parliament, will take the final decision on whether to delay the May elections.”
Cabinet Office minister Ms Smith said she was still working to “facilitate” the forthcoming elections.
“We are working to facilitate the local, mayoral, and police and crime commissioner elections on 7 May,” she said.
“We continue to work closely with those delivering the elections, while being guided by the evidence and latest advice from medical experts.”