Last week polling cards for the Council and EU elections on 22 May dropped through Holt Park letter boxes.
And with them came a shock – the usual Polling Station at Holt Park had been moved, to a considerable distance – more than half a mile away.
This was the first the residents of Holt Park had heard about this.
It was also the first the Labour Party in Adel and Wharfedale – or Leeds NW – had heard about it.
It was the first Peter Gruen, Labour Deputy Leader of Leeds City Council with responsibility for electoral services had heard about it.
In fact it was the first anyone had heard about it – apart from the officers of the Leeds City Council Electoral Services, and the local Tory Councillors for Adel and Wharfedale.
Polling Stations are normally situated at a place as convenient as possible for local residents.
The Holt Park Station had always been in the Holt Park Leisure Centre.
But the closure of that centre meant the need for a new site.
Electoral Services were unhappy with the facilities offered by Holt Park Active.
They decided – in consultation with the Local Tory Councillors – to site the station instead at the Methodist Church on Gainsborough Avenue.
The decision can be criticised on many grounds.
The new polling station is too far away – and all and all research shows that distance is of huge significance in affecting turnout.
It is at considerable distance from social housing, where there are lower levels of car ownership.
The centrality of the Holt Park centre as a place where people go to shop was too lightly ignored.
Alternatives close to the traditional site at Holt Park – a Portakabin, for example – were not taken seriously.
But the central criticism is the cavalier attitude displayed to the democratic process.
Voting has been made more difficult.
And this was done with NO CONSULTATION beyond that of local councillors.
There are hundreds of polling stations in Leeds. Their siting is the business of Electoral Services.
But it is surely essential that local knowledge be canvassed when polling stations are moved.
On this occasion that knowledge was canvassed – BUT ONLY BY ASKING THE TORY COUNCILLORS, WHO SEEM TO HAVE BEEN COMPLACENT IN THEIR ACCEPTANCE OF THIS MOVE.
There was no consultation of local residents, no consultation of other political parties – at least as far as we in the Labour Party know.
The Tory councillors were made aware of the problem in March when there was still time to resolve the issue.
Unfortunately they did not inform their constituents in Holt Park – or the Holt Park Residents’ Association – about an issue which was clearly going to make it harder for the residents of Holt Park to vote.
This sorry tale has exposed weaknesses in the consultation processes which need to be addressed more generally.
The news broke last week. Since then we in the Labour Party have pursued every option in an effort to ensure the full democratic rights of Holt Park residents.
Time, unfortunately, is not on their side. Poll cards have been printed, arrangements made.
At the time of writing we are still exploring options.
Regular readers of our websites will know that we are strongly committed to the democratic process.
We’ve put out two calls on our websites for voters to register.
We consider it essential that people vote – and that no obstacles are placed in their way to discourage voting – for whatever party.
The attitude of local Tory Councillors to the moving of the Holt Park Polling Station has been – at best – cavalier.
We in the local Labour Party take these matters more seriously.
If all else fails, we will offer a lift to every Holt Park voter to ensure they can register their vote.
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