Portable polling stations set to be axed in South Tyneside to help save money and improve accessibility
South Tyneside Council has launched a review of portable polling stations across the borough in response to new requirements of the Elections Act which will come into force in 2023.
This includes voters needing to show photographic identification to be able to vote in a polling station, as well as the need for a ‘private area’ for identification checking.
Under the new requirements, returning officers also need to take all “reasonable steps” to provide equipment to support disabled voters to vote independently and in secret.
A report presented to the most recent meeting of South Tyneside Council’s Constitution Committee outlined a review of portable polling stations, which aims to “significantly reduce the number required”.
This includes scrapping portable polling stations at several locations and relocating the polling stations into existing buildings in South Tyneside.
The council report noted portable polling stations are an “expensive option” with the cost of siting, erecting ramps and connecting power being £1,150 on average for each station compared to an average cost of £400 for using an area in a permanent building.
Councillors heard that portable polling stations also create challenges around new Election Act requirements, such as size and privacy issues, lack of space for voters and accessibility issues.
This includes a lack of “circulation space” inside portable polling stations for wheelchair users and “inadequate lighting” for those with visual impairments.
John Rumney, the council’s corporate lead for legal and governance, said the portable polling station review followed consultation with individuals and organisations across the borough, including previous election candidates and agents, MPs, voluntary community sector groups and ward councillors.
The council officer added it was up to the Constitution Committee to make formal recommendations to the full council about any changes to portable polling stations.
During discussion, councillors were presented with a list of proposed locations where portable polling stations could be removed and alternative buildings and venues where they could be housed instead.
However this only applied to portable polling stations in around 25 polling districts across 12 of South Tyneside Council’s electoral wards.
The majority of recommendations to scrap portable polling stations and move them to better-equipped permanent venues were agreed by the Constitution Committee.
During the council meeting, councillor Ed Malcolm raised concerns about the Constitution Committee considering cost impacts linked to the portable polling station review.
Cllr Malcolm told the meeting:”I don’t think we should be considering the expense because democracy, what price is democracy? That shouldn’t have been in the report to be quite frank.
“The type of portable buildings that we have, they may be small, but I would imagine that there are better-equipped portable buildings that we can get.
“Whilst they may be more expensive, again it goes down to what price we put on democracy, so I think we should be keeping that in mind as well”.
The final recommendations, including the list of portable polling stations proposed to be scrapped, will be discussed at a full meeting of South Tyneside Council in January, 2023.