Postponement of elections
98 On Friday 13 March, the Prime Minister announced that the elections scheduled for 7 May 2020 would be postponed until 6 May 2021. There are a number of polls scheduled for 7 May 2020 due to the ordinary cycle of such elections:
a. 40 Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections in England and Wales
b. 118 English council elections
c. 3 local authority mayors (Bristol, Liverpool and Salford)
d. 4 combined authority mayors (Greater Manchester, Liverpool, Tees Valley, and West Midlands)
e. London Mayor and Greater London Assembly
f. Parish elections
99 There are also other polls set to be run on that day and that will need to be postponed:
g. Certain other local referendums that are planned for 7 May 2020
h. local authority by-elections for seats that would not ordinarily be completed on that day but become vacant by, for example, resignation.
100 Most of these polls were due to take place in England only, with the exception of PCC elections which were planned in both England and Wales.
101 The decision to postpone was taken following advice from the Government’s medical experts in relation to the response to the covid-19 virus and the advice of those delivering elections (for example, a call by the Electoral Commission that the 7 May elections be postponed until the Autumn).
102 The need for the postponement arises from concerns that running a poll will be, at best, inadvisable and, at worst, impossible if candidates, campaigners, electors, electoral administrators and those providing supply and support to them are affected by either covid-19 or the measures around it. Concerns have already been raised by electoral administrators that there would be insufficient staff available to them or their suppliers. Additional risks include polling station safety, the possible demands on local authority electoral staff to support other key services, and the impracticality or potential impossibility of campaigning activity. Attempting to run a poll in those circumstances could lead to questions as to legitimacy of the outcome and sets a context for legal challenge to the results and the more general question of why it went forward in the circumstances.
103 There is no existing legislative provision that allows for any of the statutory polls scheduled for 7 May to be postponed. There are some powers to move poll dates by secondary legislation, but these are only available significantly in advance and can no longer be used for 7 May polls. These clauses will enable the postponement of the polls scheduled for 7 May. The legislation will also cover the handling of other elections and referendums (such as by-elections and local referendums) that might arise during the covid-19 outbreak and may need to be postponed - for public health reasons - in a similar way. The legislation will also provide for the postponement of the canvass in Northern Ireland - an exercise to create a new register of electors that happens every decade. The canvass will be moved from 2020 to 2021.