Letter: Elections - A healthy democracy

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The next couple of months will be a busy time for the democratic process. On Thursday, May 5 local government and Police and Crime Commissioner elections will take place in the Harrogate district. The process will barely have been completed before voters will decide on whether Britain should stay in the European Union on Thursday 23 June.

As the district’s Electoral Registration Officer and Counting Officer for the EU referendum it is my responsibility to ensure that the referendum is administered effectively and that the experience is a positive one for both voters and campaigners.

The EU referendum will be one of the biggest decisions we will make in our lifetime and I would encourage anyone who is eligible to vote to do so. Anyone who has not already registered to vote in the EU referendum must do so by Tuesday, June 7, or they will lose their chance to have their say.

The website www.aboutmyvote.co.uk explains how people can register and vote in the referendum. 

Recently, a reader’s view letter was published concerning an organisation’s wish to erect a stall at Knaresborough Market as part of their EU referendum campaign. I would like to take this opportunity to clarify the council’s position about canvasing on council property.

The council is under a duty to follow recommended practice on local authority publicity and must ensure that the council’s public resources are not used to affect support for a political party, political campaign or a candidate during a pre-election period.

This year there are two pre-election publicity periods.  The first, relating to the local government and Police and Crime Commissioner elections, commenced on March 30 2016 and will remain in place until polling day on May 5.

The second, relating to the EU referendum covers May 27 to June 23, 2016. There are a number of considerations which need to be taken into account when making a decision on which groups can hold a stall at one of the markets operated by the council.

On this occasion, we needed to consider whether we were in a pre-election publicity period, and whether the proposed campaigning was related to the local elections or referendum. In addition, the council’s guidelines for the use of council land or property must be taken into account. These guidelines state that stalls on the highway and pedestrianised areas will not be permitted for campaigning organisations, political parties or other political groups.

The organisation which requested permission to campaign on the EU referendum fell within this category, notwithstanding the fact that it was outside the pre-election publicity period for the referendum, and therefore was refused permission for a stall.

The organisation was not refused permission to campaign per se.

The council recognises that campaigning is an essential part of a healthy democracy and the circulation of information, such as leaflets, is an important part of this process.

Wallace Sampson,

Chief Executive,

Harrogate Borough Council