Coronavirus: Local election turnouts may hit record low with two million predicted to stay at home

The upcoming local elections in the UK may suffer turnouts as low as 21% as more than two million voters may stay at home due to the coronavirus outbreak, according to new analysis by WebRoots Democracy.

Using the Government’s 2013 pandemic influenza planning document, the think tank has made estimates for how the coronavirus (COVID-19) may impact the voter turnout for 34 local council, police commissioner, and mayoral elections scheduled to be held May 2020. The figures are calculated based on the assumption that 20% of the workforce will be in self-isolation.

More than half a million voters may be affected in the London Mayoral election leading to a drop in turnout to just 36% which would be it’s lowest since 2000. Turnout in the Greater Manchester Mayoral election could drop to 23% with the West Midlands Mayoral election risking a turnout as low as 21%. These figures are based upon turnout from the most recent previous election.

Beyond voters not choosing, or not being physically able, to participate at the ballot box, the elections may also suffer from staff shortages for polling stations and count centres. Postal services may also suffer as a result of the coronavirus which may affect the timeliness of postal votes. Polling stations, themselves, would also need to be redesigned in order to reduce the risk of infection. Due to concerns such as these, the UK’s Electoral Commission has written to the Government to recommend the elections are postponed until the autumn.

Areeq Chowdhury from WebRoots Democracy said:

“The Electoral Commission is right to recommend postponing the May local elections. Continuing to proceed with the elections as planned could risk the health of voters and election officials as well as lead to historically low voter turnouts, undermining the legitimacy of those elected.

Given the lack of certainty about when this virus will be resolved, we repeat our calls for the Government to trial a remote online voting system to enable all voters to participate independently in our elections. In addition to those affected by the coronavirus, it is worth remembering that many voters with disabilities or based overseas already struggle to vote in our system – virus or no virus. The rest of society is seeking digital and remote alternatives to their day-to-day tasks, our democracy should do the same.”

Up to 2.2 million voters are estimated to be significantly affected by the coronavirus, according to our analysis. The 34 elections analysed were mayoral elections (London, West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Tees Valley, Liverpool City Region, and Bristol), police and crime commissioner elections (Avon and Somerset; Cheshire; Derbyshire; Devon and Cornwall; Dorset; Dyfed-Powys; Essex; Gloucestershire; Gwent; Hampshire; Humberside; Kent; Lancashire; Leicestershire; Lincolnshire; Merseyside; Northamptonshire; North Yorkshire; South Wales; Staffordshire; Surrey; Sussex; Thames Valley; West Mercia; West Midlands; West Yorkshire; and Wiltshire), and one local council election (Buckinghamshire County).


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