Headlines: October 29th, 2002

The government is beginning consultations on plans to move the 2004 English local council elections – and the polls for the Greater London Assembly – to the same day as the European Parliamentary elections. This would do away with the need to get voters to turn out twice in five weeks.The consultation will also ask for views on weekend voting and at the same time the government is to look at the possible use of initiatives such as all-postal ballots, internet voting and telephone voting, which have been piloted by local authorities, in a combined election if the change of date goes ahead.

The announcement of the consultation came in a Parliamentary reply from Local Government Minister, Nick Raynsford. He said, “We want to see a modern, efficient electoral system, so that voting for all electors is as convenient and as straightforward as possible. We are therefore concerned that in 2004 many electors are being asked to vote on two separate occasions within the space of five weeks, firstly in local council elections or elections for the London Mayor and Assembly on May 6th and secondly for the European Parliament on June 10th.”

Mr. Raynsford said he was seeking views on the practical issues involved in moving the local elections to June 10th. ” We are also seeking views on the option of weekend voting,” he said. The consultation will run until January.

Staging the two elections on the same day would require a change in the law. The government is, therefore, looking at introducing a clause in the proposed Local Government Bill allowing the date to be changed by means of a statutory instrument.

The minister said separate consideration was being given to whether the programme of election pilots such as voting by the internet, by phone, or by all-postal ballots should go ahead in full in 2004. A decision would be made in good time, bearing in mind that any piloting in combined elections would require separate primary legislation.

Yvette Cooper, the Minister with responsibility for electoral reform, said,   “It shouldn’t be a hassle to exercise your democratic rights. That’s why we want to know what people think of weekend voting and of combining the election dates.