EXCLUSIVE: The distribution of postal ballots for council by-elections is running behind schedule, reports STEVEN DOWNES
It appears that Katherine Kerswell, the council’s interim chief executive, in her role as the borough’s returning officer, until today had not sent out a single postal vote to Croydon residents who would prefer to avoid having to take their own pencils to the by-election polling stations in New Addington North, Woodside, South Norwood, Park Hill and Whitgift ward or Kenley on May 6.
For the first time in Croydon history, the council ward election count is to be held outside the borough, at Olympia, alongside the London election count. The vote count for Croydon and Sutton for the London Mayor and London Assembly, to ensure it is conducted in a covid-safe manner, will not take place until Saturday, May 8.
And Croydon’s five by-election counts will be staged at the same venue and on the same day.
Yet no postal voters in the five Croydon wards holding by-election on May 6 have received their ballot papers, with just six working days left before polling day.
Postal votes for the Greater London Assembly elections and London Mayor ballot, to be conducted on the same date, were despatched to voters from April 14.
In an email sent to council by-election candidates and their agents over the weekend, an official in Croydon’s electoral services department wrote, “Postal votes for the by-election will be dispatched on Monday 26 April. They will be sent 1st Class and should be delivered to electors the following day.”
The council is now playing catch-up.
The email from the official admitted that they are behind the schedule for the smooth conduct of the votes in the by-elections.
“We had hoped that the postal votes would have been dispatched a little earlier,” the official told the candidates. “The schedule for opening sessions was based on this assumption.”
Postal ballots are usually opened, though not counted, in front of candidates and their agents or activists, ahead of polling day. The council had originally arranged for the by-election postal ballot opening to be conducted at the Fairfield Halls, with the paperwork then being sent on to Olympia for the count.
Croydon’s by-election counts are being staged alongside the London voting because of the real risk that on polling day some voters might inadvertently placed the wrong ballot paper in the wrong ballot box.
Now, the council has delayed the postal ballot opening sessions.
“As things stand, we are unlikely to have received many postal votes back by the time of the first scheduled opening sessions, Friday 30 April. Therefore we have decided that there will be a revised schedule of postal vote opening sessions. They will now take place on Tuesday 4 May and Thursday 6 May.”
Provided, of course, the voters ever actually receive their ballot papers and can get them back to the council in time.
The by-elections are being held following the resignations of five sitting councillors, two Tory and three Labour, including the discredited former council leader, Tony Newman.
The London elections are being held 12 months later than planned, following their postponement in 2020 due to covid-19. It had been expected that, because of coronavirus, many more Londoners would opt to cast their votes by post, to avoid visiting their usual polling stations.
“Any delay in sending out ballot papers to the public represents a real chance of reducing the number of people being able to cast their votes,” a Katharine Street source said.
“There’s always possible delays in the postal system, and remember, there’s a Bank Holiday coming up in the middle of all this. Any voter who wants to ensure that their votes are received in time and counted will need to turn round their ballot paper straight away.”
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