Politics

Winter election: What difference does it make?

polling station rain Image copyright Getty Images

On Monday, MPs are expected to consider the prime minister’s call for an election on 12 December. UK elections usually take place in May or June – the last December election was in 1923 – so what difference might a winter election make?

Are all the polling stations booked up?

Elections are huge organisational feats. Millions of polling cards have to be distributed. Postal votes need to be sent. And thousands of school halls, churches and community centres have to be booked to be used as polling stations.

The worry is that lots of these locations will already be booked up in mid-December for Christmas events.

Laura Lock, of the Association of Electoral Administrators, says her members have been making calls, and finding many of the usual venues already have bookings.

“We will find polling stations,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme – but they might not be where people expect. Voters could find themselves casting their ballots in garages or under caravan awnings.

And the counting of votes, which lasts many hours and relies on temporary staff, may also have to take place in similarly makeshift locations.

Will bad weather stop people voting?

This is an enduring idea which instinctively feels right. In the cold and damp December weather, surely people will be less inclined to turn out and vote.

However, experts say there is no evidence from the UK to suggest that bad weather stops people from voting.

Research from the University of Oxford found virtually no correlation between the weather and turnout – instead people are more likely to vote if the election race is close and there is a strong difference between the leading parties.

They are far less likely to vote if it feels like a foregone conclusion, or the main candidates seem relatively close in their political outlook.

What about shorter days?

As in the case of polling stations, the shorter winter days provide a logistical challenge for election organisers.

Some are already planning to buy in temporary lighting for polling station entrances, according to Ms Lock.

They may also need to consider gritting polling station car parks and pathways in case of bad weather.

As for whether shorter days might put people off voting, we don’t have evidence for that.

Prof Sir John Curtice at Strathclyde University told the BBC that in the post-war period there have been two winter elections in February, and both had high turnouts.

Both shorter days and poor weather might make life more difficult for people knocking on doors during the campaign.

Will it stop students voting?

It was suggested when Prime Minister Boris Johnson attempted to call an election for mid-October that this could limit the student vote. At the beginning of the academic year, many would not yet have had time to register to vote in their new places of residence.

If an election happens on 12 December, which is close to the end of term, that could also cause confusion about whether students should be registered at home or near to where they’re studying.

But this issue is more about calling an election at short notice than because it’s winter.

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Source: bbc.co.uk

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