ONE of the normal democratic processes of day-to-day life postponed by 2020 were local council elections.

Though there have been recent suggestions of delays, as it stands voters will decide the fate of these councils in May this year instead, on top of other elections planned for 2021.

Oxford City Council was due to hold a full local election in May 2020 as new electoral boundaries for the city had been drawn up.

Because of this change, all 48 councillors were set to battle for their seats, whereas only half would usually face the polls.

Alongside Oxford, West Oxfordshire and Cherwell District Councils were also due to hold elections for one third of their elected members.

But the coronavirus pandemic made it impossible to hold elections, as gathering to cast a vote was considered as a risk to spreading the infection.

READ AGAIN about how last year's elections were put on hold

Now, the three districts are due to hold elections in May 2021, alongside Oxfordshire County Council and the Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner.

This week, cabinet office minister Chloe Smith confirmed to parliament that elections will still take place on May 6, 2021.

But how voters turn out is likely to be quite different during the pandemic than in a normal year.

Ms Smith said she expected a larger proportion of people would apply to be absentee voters, either using a postal ballot, or asking a trusted person to vote by proxy on their behalf, as a result of concerns about catching coronavirus.

The Electoral Commission, the national body which manages how elections are run in the UK, has been preparing for the local polls by looking at how other countries have managed voting during the pandemic.

They said: “As we have seen, elections have managed to proceed safely in countries around the world facing similar public health constraints.

“Absent voting is likely to play an important role in delivering elections during the pandemic, but recent research we’ve conducted shows that most voters are likely to want to continue voting in-person despite the public health challenges.”

New Zealand held a general election in October after facing delays due to a resurgence in Covid cases.

Postal voting saw a huge surge during the United States presidential election held in November, because they allow people to participate while preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

Oxford Mail: A Ballot BoxA Ballot Box

A ballot box

The Commission spokeswoman added: “We are working with electoral administrators to ensure they have the guidance and support they need ahead of the polls to manage the absent voting process effectively, as well as ensure that polling stations will be safe places for those who choose to vote in person in May.”

In November, six months ahead of the polls, the Commission publicised some of the steps it is taking to prepare for the 2021 elections.

This mainly includes guidance for councils on how polling stations should be set up while the infection is still in circulation, but also includes guidance for the political parties who are campaigning for votes.

And this year,, the Commission plans to launch a ‘series of public awareness campaigns to help voters understand their voting options and how to register to vote ahead of the polls’.

How the vote itself will turn out is also anybody’s best guess, and opinion polls are subject to change all the time.

But local elections are usually influenced by people’s opinions of the national political situation.

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During the last local elections in 2019, the Lib Dems saw an uptick in their share of the vote due to the unpopular way in which the then-Prime Minister Theresa May was handling Brexit.

Because of this change in political opinion, the Liberal Democrats were able to win a majority share of the council seats on Vale of White Horse District Council, and a large enough share on South Oxfordshire District Council to form a coalition with the Green Party.

Recent polling has suggested a slump for the Conservatives due to the Government’s handling of the pandemic, which may translate into a larger share of the vote for both Labour and the Lib Dems.

But the Conservative party is also pinning its hopes on a so-called 'vaccine bump', where voters might turn out in large numbers for the Tories once the coronavirus vaccine has been administered to more people.

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