The Coronavirus Act has now been passed by UK Parliament and has received Royal Assent, and contains provisions to allow postponement of elections and by-elections.
Having reviewed the final legislation, the EMB would suggest that the following steps be taken by ROs wishing to postpone the filling of a vacancy under this act.
Postpone filling a vacancy
Returning Officers seeking to postpone the filling of a vacancy should :
- Email Scottish Ministers. Details were in the letter circulated last week from Penny Curtis. Contact should be via Penelope.Curtis@gov.scot copied to the Elections Team’s inbox ElectionsTeam@gov.scot Also copy in Maria.McCann@gov.scot
- Email the Convener of EMB. This is Malcolm Burr firstname.lastname@example.org ; also copy in myself as Secretary of the EMB email@example.com
- Email the Electoral Commission. Use the address Infoscotland@electoralcommission.org.uk and copy in Andy O’Neill firstname.lastname@example.org Head of Electoral Commission, Scotland
A template email for this purpose is offered below, which can be modified as you see fit:
POSTPONEMENT OF BY-ELECTION: XXX WARD OF THE XXX COUNCIL
I write as Returning Officer for the XXXXX Council to inform you that I intend to postpone the filling of a casual vacancy in the XXX Ward of this Council that has arisen due to the resignation/death of a serving councillor. Under the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 I am required to fill the vacancy within three months of it arising. A by-election was to have been held on the XX May 2020.
Due to the current public health advice around the control of the coronavirus and under the provisions of the Coronovirus Act 2020 I intend to postpone this by-election/the filling of the vacancy until XX ?November?? 2020. Under clause 70 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 “Postponement of local authority elections in Scotland for casual vacancies” I am writing formally to consult on my intention to postpone the filling of this vacancy. If you have any comments on my intended course of action I would be grateful if you could contact me as soon as possible. Otherwise it is my intention to make public the postponement of the filling of the vacancy until XX November 2020??. [Or if Notice of election has already been published – …….. it is my intention to publish a Notice stating that the date of the by-election has changed to XX November 2020].
If I determine that a by-election on this future date is also contrary to public health advice current at that time then I will again consult with you around a further postponement. I have kept other elected members of my Council informed of my intentions and will communicate my decision with local political parties and other stakeholders.
Ministers, EMB and Commission do not need to write back, however in the circumstances I anticipate that all three would respond with 24 hours
ROs need to publicise the position clearly at least with a note on their website and communicate information to contacts in parties and with prospective candidates.
If a Notice of Election has already been published then a formal Notice would be needed to confirm that the date has been changed.
Note that the returning officer must fix a date under 70 (2) of the Act for the poll at the election to be held 'as soon as reasonably practicable'.
I trust that this clarifies the process and will provide useful background as to you should now proceed. If you wish to discuss any of this process then you should in the first instance contact the Secretary of the Electoral Management Board, Chris Highcock. The Electoral Commission are also prepared to give additional support and guidance where needed.
Convener of the Electoral Management Board for Scotland
27 March 2020