With the May 3 local elections just around the corner, South Tyneside Council’s Labour-led authorities are looking to tighten their control of the council.
Although the council has historically had a large Labour majority, this election could see all 54 seats occupied by the party.
With the council’s only independent councillor, Lee Hughes, stepping down this year, a Labour whitewash could leave the council with no opposition.
What’s the current makeup of South Tyneside Council?
The council elects its councillors by thirds and at the last local government election on May 5 2016, Labour took all 18 seats.
The move saw the Conservative party lose its only seat on the council.
Labour currently control 53 out of 54 seats and on May 3, one candidate will be standing in each of the council’s 18 wards.
Cabinet members Moira Smith, Allan West and Nancy Maxwell will be defending their seats alongside the authority’s current mayor, Olive Punchion.
Could South Tyneside Council be left without an opposition?
If Labour defend all of their seats and take the Bede ward seat left by outgoing independent councillor, Lee Hughes, the council would have no formal opposition.
This prospect has been raised by many political parties contesting Labour seats, with candidates citing a historic lack of political choice in the borough.
In the 2016 election, there was a total turnout of 33.8% with the highest turnout for a ward being Cleadon and East Boldon with 47.5%
While the Greens and Conservatives only hope to realistically gain a couple of seats, the two parties are fielding candidates in every ward.
Four independents and three Liberal Democrat candidates will also be standing in key wards in the borough.
UKIP is fielding no candidates.
What’s the opposite scenario?
While no major Labour upheaval is expected, it’s possible some seats could change hands.
This includes Bede ward being taken again by an independent councillor, which would maintain the council’s political makeup at 53/1 (Labour/ Independent).
Based on previous elections and turnout, it is possible that small gains could be made by contesting parties.
What voters need to know before Election Day
Across South Tyneside:
•There are 115,110 eligible voters;
•80 polling stations will be open;
•160 polling staff will be on duty.
Vote in Time
Polling stations will be open from 7am to 10pm on Thursday, May 3. (Voters had to have applied to register to vote by April 17 in order to be able to vote on the day.)
Polling cards have been sent to the addresses of registered voters. The cards give details of the location of their polling station. Voters can only vote at the polling station on their own poll card.
Plan when to cast your vote and leave plenty of time before the 10pm deadline.
Those who arrive at their polling station after 10pm will miss their chance to take part.
Make sure postal votes are returned by 10pm on Thursday, May 3
Those who have not had time to post it before polling day, can take it to any polling station in South Tyneside and hand it in.
Postal votes that arrive after 10pm on May 3 will not be counted.
If you have appointed a proxy, then they need to make sure they are able to vote at your polling station on your behalf.
If you suddenly become unable to vote in person, due to a medical emergency or because your occupation, service or employment means you cannot go to the polling station, and you only become aware of that fact after the deadline, then you may be entitled to appoint an emergency proxy.
You can apply for an emergency proxy up until 5pm on polling day. Contact South Tyneside Council’s Elections Team direct about this on 0191 424 7230.
How to fill in the ballot paper
The staff at the polling station will give you a ballot paper listing the candidates you can vote for.
Staff will be on hand at the polling station to provide advice on the voting process.
Those who are disabled can ask the Presiding Officer for help and they can mark the ballot paper for you.
You can also ask someone else to help you (e.g. a close relative or a friend or support worker, who is an eligible elector).
Those who have a visual impairment can ask for a large print ballot paper or for a special voting device that allows them to vote on their own in secret.
Take your ballot paper into a polling booth so that no one can see how you vote.
Read the ballot paper carefully. It will tell you how to cast your vote. Do not write anything else on the paper or your vote may not be counted.
Mark the ballot paper according to the instructions. A pencil will be provided in the polling booth and pens are also available from the Presiding Officer, but some people may prefer to use their own pen.
If you make a mistake on your ballot paper, don’t worry.
So long as you haven’t already put it in the ballot box, just let the polling station staff know and they can issue you with a replacement ballot paper.
Fold your completed ballot paper in half and pop it in the ballot box.
Remember, pictures of you before you go into or after you leave the polling station are great to use on social media posts but don’t take a picture of yourself inside the polling station as if you post this it could be a breach of the law.
Your Vote Counts!
Deputy Leader of South Tyneside Council with responsibility for Democratic Renewal, Coun Alan Kerr added a message to voters.
“With the elections fast approaching, we want to make sure that everyone who is registered to vote knows how to cast their vote on May 3rd,” he said.
“Putting a cross in a box may seem simple, but there are a number of things voters need to consider in order to be ready for the local election.
“Many people will have voted before and will be familiar with the process.
“However there will be some first time voters, particularly among our young people who will be unsure about what to do.
“Every single vote counts therefore we want everyone to feel comfortable and confident in exercising their right to vote and having their say.”
Chris Binding , Local Democracy Reporting Service