Electoral Services - Overview Report 2019
Decision status: Recommendations Approved
Is Key decision?: No
Is subject to call in?: No
The Committee noted that Appendix A (Electoral Services – Overview Report 2019) had not been included in the published agenda. Officers apologised to the Committee for this oversight. It was agreed that Appendix A should be presented to the next meeting of the committee on 12 January 2021.
The Head of Electoral Services, John Bailey, presented the item and outlined some of the key activities undertaken in 2019. He reported that a short notice EU election had been held in May 2019 and a General Election in December 2019. Both had been successfully delivered. It was noted that the General Election had resulted in the annual canvass being cut short due to the requirement to publish the register of electors in advance of the election.
The Committee were informed that as at 18 September 2020 there were 269,000 electors on the electoral register. However, as this is during the annual canvass period the number is likely to change significantly, as electors are removed and join the register.
The Covid-19 pandemic was having a significant impact on the conduct of the annual canvass and specifically, face-to-face door knocking is not a Covid secure activity and has been suspended for the current canvass. The Committee were informed that the Government had introduced legislative changes to the annual canvass in December 2019. Due to this, in June, the register of electors had been sent to the Cabinet Office for data matching with records held by the Department of Work and Pensions. Barnet had a 77% match rate which is known to be one of the highest in London. As a result, most households (118,000) in Barnet received a form which states that a response is onlt required if information needs to be updated. For the remaining 47,000 households, Household Enquiry Forms (HEFs) had been sent out in August and a response is required – even if there are no updates. It was reported that the law now allowed the Councils to contact households by phone and email to check records where a response had not been received and this is expected to reduce the instances where a visit to the property would have been required previously.
In relation to the conduct of the General Election in December 2019, it was reported that turnout in Barnet was 70.4%, compared to 67.5% in London and 67.3% nationally. In the lead up to the election, there had been very large increases in registration, postal vote and proxy vote applications being made.
It was noted that the London Mayoral and GLA elections scheduled for May 2020 had been deferred until May 2021. Whilst preparations are already underway, delivering this election will be exceptionally challenging due to Covid and the many additional measures that will be required to be put in place. For example, all polling venues will need to be reviewed and extra staff required to manage queues. In addition there will be special arrangements required for postal vote opening and verification to make that process safe under Covid conditions.
Responding to a question from the Committee, the Head of Electoral Services reported that EU nationals were currently eligible to vote at the London Mayoral and GLA elections in May 2021.
It was also reported that there had been no legislative changes to how elections would be conducted in the future and officers were planning on the May 2021 election on that basis. Indications from Cabinet Office are that no primary legislation will be made ahead of the May 2021 elections.
1. The Committee note the Electoral Services 2019 performance as outlined above.
2. The Committee agree that the Electoral Services - Overview Report 2019 (Appendix A) that was omitted from the agenda be circulated to Members after the meeting and reported to the 12 January 2021 meeting.
Publication date: 15/10/2020
Date of decision: 12/10/2020
Decided at meeting: 12/10/2020 - Constitution and General Purposes Committee