Polling station row risks Christmas disruption
With many public buildings already booked up, election officers are struggling to find alternative polling station venues
Election officers have hit back at calls from the education secretary for polling stations not be placed in schools as part of a bid to avoid disruption to pre-planned Christmas events.
The UK is set to go to the polls for its first winter election in nearly 100 years next month. Yet among fears dark nights could affect turnout and Royal Mail strikes could impact postal voting, there have also been reports of widespread problems finding suitable polling station venues so close to Christmas.
Many traditional polling stations located in community halls or schools have already been booked up for festive events.
To avoid disruption to school nativity plays and Christmas concerts, which could clash with election day, the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has written to returning officers telling them not to use schools as places to vote and that councils would be funded to find alternative venues for polling stations.
The Times has labelled the offer part of a “Grinch fund” after a survey of nearly 1,500 teachers by the website Teacher Tapp found that more than 200 were expecting the election to cause disruption, including to end-of-year assessments.
Yet in what the BBC describes as a “stinging” letter to the education secretary, the Association of Electoral Administrators, the professional body representing people who run elections, accused Williamson of a “complete lack of knowledge and understanding” and rejected his claim that “every community” will have alternative venues for voting.
“That is simply not the case. In many parts of the United Kingdom, including towns and cities but especially in rural areas, there are simply no alternatives to the venues designated as polling places” it said.
ITV News says “there have been a number of reports of schools being forced to cancel events due to polling day” and there are concerns that anger over disruption could harm the Tories, who the majority of people blame for forcing an election at Christmas.
Playing to these fears, Labour candidate Jess Phillips tweeted that she had been contacted by a parent to say that a primary school “is having to stop their Christmas fete which was to raise funds because of cuts, because the school will be a polling station”.
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