Posted: 22.02.21 at 12:33 by Daniel Clark - Local Democracy Reporter
Seaton’s county councillor Martin Shaw has said debate on how to improve public safety at local elections in May has been “stifled”.
The government recently announced that the 2021 Devon County Council elections would take place as scheduled on May 6, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Cllr Shaw, East Devon Alliance councillor for Seaton and Colyton, has made his feeling about the election clear, saying the Conservative government’s decision about how local elections will be held will “blatantly benefit their own party”.
He previously commented: “I am particularly concerned that they are banning leafleting and canvassing by candidates, which will penalise independents like myself as well as the less well funded parties, while increasing the spending limits for candidates which will benefit the Tories, who will flood the electorate with commercially delivered leaflets funded by their wealthy donors.
“At the same time, they are doing nothing to make postal voting easier. At the moment you have to print off a form from the internet and post it in – this penalises many younger voters who don’t have printers. They should at least create a secure process to allow people to apply online.”
Cllr Shaw put forward a motion to Thursday’s full council meeting, calling for discussions to be held as to how the elections can be made safer.
He said: “This is an urgent matter, and the government only recently decided to hold the election and the rules for it. The next meeting is after the elections so if it is referred to the cabinet so will be out of date.
“We are in a pandemic and voting in person cannot be guaranteed as safe, but the government is doing nothing to make postal voting easier, and banning leafleting by candidates won’t help the less well-off candidates.
“I would hope you would welcome the opportunity to discuss how to make the elections safer but if you don’t like the wording of the motion, you can amend it or you can vote it down, but don’t stifle debate.”
As part of his motion, Cllr Shaw suggested that the government should facilitate free postal delivery of leaflets for each council election candidate.
However, councillors voted 32 to 11, with four abstentions, against debating the motion on the day and instead referred it to Cabinet, a decision Cllr Shaw said was “disappointing”.
A second motion on elections from Cllr Shaw, calling for councils to be able choose to change their voting system from the first-past-the-post system to the proportional single transferable vote system, which is already used for local elections in Scotland and Northern Ireland, was also referred to the Cabinet, but in accordance with the wishes of Cllr Shaw.
Other local councillors have also expressed concerns over the public safety of elections, with Axminster's representative Ian Hall saying he may not even seek re-election if the right decisions over safety are not made.