Security at this month’s EU elections is likely to be higher than usual amid concerns election staff might bear the brunt of escalating tensions over Brexit, LGC has learned.
Election officials have told LGC there is a greater risk of “inappropriate and abusive behaviour” at the poll, currently due to go ahead on 23 May.
Chair of the Electoral Commission Sir John Holmes said this week it was clear that emotions surrounding these elections “may run high” on both sides of the Brexit divide and there was a “huge responsibility on all concerned… to make sure that these elections are conducted in a properly democratic way.”
Louise Round, chief executive of Tandridge DC and elections spokesperson for the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers, told LGC while it is normal practice for the police to appoint a single point of contact for an elecion, returning officers are working on a ”higher level of response than usual” for the EU poll and planning for a range of scenarios. “Our priority is, as always, to run an efficient and robust election process but of course we must consider the welfare of staff at all times,” she said.
Mark Heath, the regional returning officer for the South East, said that he beileves that most returning officers are talking to the police - as he is in his region. ”We have 13 count centres across the country which are very visible, and if you wanted to disrupt the elections, that’s where you would do it,” he said. “Our centre in Southampton will be policed accordingly, but it has to be as low key as possible. Officers will be talking local intelligence into account.”
Due to the heightened concerns around the EU poll, all regional returning officers have agreed to use an edited version of the Statements of Persons Nominated (SOPN) for online use because of concerns that making candidate addesses publically available could impact their safety.
Ian Miller, chief executive of Wyre Forest DC, is concerned that security issues could arise on voting day.
“There have been some attacks on candidates in local elections, and I can foresee tensions in the EU elections will be higher,” he said. “There is a risk of inappropriate and abusive behaviour. I am sure there will be incidents of people wanting to take out their anger and unhappiness on candidates and election staff. I would naturally expect more concern in Brexit voting areas – but it could happen anywhere.
“It’s something we will be taking very seriously and will be looking carefully at police presence at polling stations.”
Mr Miller, who is Wye Forest’s electoral registration officer, said that protecting counting venues is also of paramount concern. “If you wanted to disrupt these elections, you would focus on protesting at the counting centres rather than the polling stations in order to cause maximum disruption,” he said. “We will be concerned to make sure they are secure and that only the people authorised to be present are there.”
If agreement can be reached among MPs before 22 May, the UK still could cancel its participation in the elections. The Conservatives have said their priority is still not to have to fight the elections, and have not declared publicly when their election campaign would launch.
But across the UK, 50,000 polling stations and 200,000 staff have already been mobilised to work on the European Elections, according to the Electoral Commission.
Earlier this week LGC reported that there is also concern that the last minute rush to organise these elections could lead to legal challenges from EU citizens who have found themselves disenfranchised.