Will better poll station access get more voting?

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LEEDS council is launching a major piece of work to review its polling station arrangements - and to try and get voter turnout levels up.

The authority is considering a variety of measures to increase public participation in the democratic process, and is today launching a consultation related to the issue.

The city’s overall turnout at the recent local elections was just under 35 per cent.

A council meeting this week heard that accessibility - or lack of it - can be a major factor in putting people off voting.

However the panel also acknowledged that it was time for the authority to seriously start considering alternative voting methods. Senior council voices have already expressed support for exploring digital voting in the future.

The ideas will be discussed as part of an overall review of polling districts and stations, which requires the council to ensure that all electors have reasonable facilities for voting and that every polling place is accessible to the disabled.

The authority must also consider the costs of putting on elections, as the Government has ordered councils to reduce these costs.

Committee chair and council leader councillor Keith Wakefield said: “There’s a balance between democracy, accessibility and cost.” Coun Peter Gruen added: “Democracy comes at a particular price. People do need to have accessibility.”

One key factor, raised by several members of the panel, was the use of portakabins as polling stations, something else that central Government wants to reduce. However the meeting heard this can cause problems, because some schools do not have the facilities, or the ongoing will, to act as polling stations.

Coun Elizabeth Nash, who represents City and Hunslet, one of the largest electoral wards with one of the lowest traditional turnouts, said she has already requested that some polling stations be moved to a “more accessible site” in the future. Coun Judith Blake, speaking of the polling arrangements in her own Middleton Park ward, added: “We were disappointed with some of the access. It was frankly quite embarrassing.”

Initial proposals for the city’s new polling districts and arrangements will be published in August.

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