Hiccup at start of Somerset poll
It is hard to write this without sounding like carping. But the facts about the poll on the future of local government in Somerset are as follows:
On 30th April all four district councils voted to hold a poll on the unitary debate. The poll would offer voters the choice of a one unitary or two unitary solution. The motion approved by the councils explained that: “the poll be held commencing on Tuesday 18th May 2021 and closing at 5.00PM on Friday 4th June 2021.”
On 17 May Facebook posts from South Somerset District Council explained: voting opens tomorrow on the future of local government in Somerset! Look out for your voter pack in the post. You can vote online or by post using your ballot paper.
Except that you can’t. You can’t vote without your ballot paper and the data on it. So to be able to vote on the 18, ballots should have been posted on 17. But see below….
On 18 May we contacted a number of Somerset residents none of who had received a polling card. In the afternoon of 18 May we received a press release saying “Ballot papers will start dropping through letterboxes this week for the local poll on options for change in local government in Somerset.”
In a statement issued by SSDC on behalf of the four councils at 4.30pm matters had moved on. We were told “We have been very clear that ballot papers would be posted on 18 May to allow Somerset residents to participate in the poll which runs until 5pm on 4 June.” Well yes, if you ignore the facebook posts on 17 May and the motion voted on by councillors on 30 April.
At the same time the four council leaders issued a statement saying “Local people must be allowed to have the opportunity to have their say clearly and unambiguously. A properly organised, independently run public vote is the best way to ensure that happens.” So far it is not looking especially like a “properly organised poll”. Does it matter? Possibly not. It depend on when the voting papers finally arrived. If they were sent second class they won’t arrive until 20 May at the earliest. If councillors thought they were voting for a poll that started on 18 May and lasted until 4 June, perhaps the end date should now be extended?
Meanwhile campaigning has started. Councillors Oliver Patrick and Peter Seib posting on Facebook a summary of “facts” skewed, unsurprisingly, to show their choice of Stronger Somerset in the best light. This is followed by a suggestion that you should vote in letters coloured, by an amazing co-incidence, in the same colours as the Stronger Somerset bid font. And the vote symbol appears directly above the Stronger Somerset option. The posts were made on 16 May and had not been removed by the time the poll had opened on 18 May.
It is frustrating that we have a poll where one side is nakedly campaigning and the other refuses to engage. It will make it very difficult for the poll to be in any sense fair, and that is not the fault of the Stronger Somerset team.
At least there is a vote, which is better than no vote.