Thursday 1st May is local election day. Last year, Birmingham City Council reviewed where people should go to vote, and made very few changes. All voters in Castle Vale will have to go to one of three primary schools – Chivenor, Topcliffe, or Pegasus, to cast their vote.
So why does the City Council choose primary schools – the one place where you can guarantee there wil be hundreds of vulnerable occupants each week day ? Are there no other buildings in Castle Vale where voters could go ? Places used on a daily basis by fewer people ? Places that would not have to be closed down for the day for their normal business?
Each of the three primary schools will be closed to children on May 1st. For Topcliffe School, that will be the third day of disruption in as many months. Last Thursday the school was closed by the teachers’ strike. In February the council workers’ strike shut it down for the day. More strikes, and more closures, are likely in the coming months.
Topcliffe’s acting Headteacher Chris Robinson says that health and safety concerns mean that the school has to close for polling day. “We could not have the school open to the public, and at the same time guarantee the safety of the children. We do not choose to be a polling station, but our responsiblity to the safety of the children means that we must keep the children off site.”
That’s Chris Robinson’s professional view. But, and he stresses that this is a personal view, we could all benefit from having a radical rethink of the way we vote. “Why have voting on a Thursday ?” he asks. “Why not have voting over a whole weekend ? Then we wouldn’t have to close schools. And it would be a lot easier for working adults to cast their vote. Not so many would be at work.They use this system in other countries. It would make a lot more sense here, too.”
The Electoral Commission, who oversee local and general elections in the UK, have experimented in some areas of the country with other systems of voting, such as using the internet, and expanding the postal voting system. The internet experiment in a dozen areas of the country increased voter turnout. But it isn’t secure, they conclude.
So, electronic technology enables us to send money securely, and to communicate with people 12,000 miles away with the click of a mouse in an instant; but in order to cast a vote at a local election, we still have to close down 75% of Vale’s primary schools.
Even the Electoral Commission has conceded that our current system is ‘rooted in nineteenth-century practices and legislation.’