Wednesday 18 March 2020
On 13th March, it was announced that the UK Government had agreed to postpone local elections in the UK, from this May until 2021. The Electoral Commission had warned that "the risks to delivery" arising from the current coronavirus pandemic were such that they "cannot be confident that voters will be able to participate in the polls safely and confidently, nor that campaigners will be able to put their case to the electorate."
The States' Assembly & Constitution Committee met today to consider how public health concerns might affect Guernsey's General Election in June 2020.
The Committee recognised that, if it had to hold a General Election today, it would not be possible to do so, in light of the current public health advice aimed at containing the spread of coronavirus. The mass mobilisation of voters in the run-up to Election Day, and any face-to-face canvassing by candidates, would pose serious risks of transmission across the community.
Notwithstanding this, the Committee is acutely aware of the sensitivities around potentially delaying the election, and thereby extending the term of office of the current Assembly. Therefore, it considered very carefully whether, in light of the ongoing situation, it might be possible to mitigate the risks sufficiently to hold the election in June as planned.
Ultimately the Committee concluded that as Guernsey, like the rest of the world, may be responding to the coronavirus threat for an extended period of time it does not have sufficient confidence that it will be possible to hold a free and fair election this summer. Consequently, it intends to issue a policy letter as soon as practicable asking the States to agree that the June election should be postponed.
If the States agree the Committee's recommendations, there will clearly be many ramifications of this decision, which will be explored in the policy letter, including a recommended revised time line for an election later this year, and a provisional reserve date in late spring, 2021, should circumstances require.
Deputy Inder, President of the States' Assembly & Constitution Committee, said:
"Any decision to delay an Election is significant and in normal circumstances would be avoided at all costs; however, we are in uncharted territory. Everyone has to be confident that voters are able to fully participate in the election, that candidates can effectively canvass and that the resources are available to support and run the election."
The Committee's policy letter will set out the options in respect of the 2020 General Election, and will allow for a final decision to be made on whether the Election is to be held in June, or postponed until later in the year. The policy letter will also include recommendations on how the States should consider conducting business in the event of a postponement. The policy letter will be put to the States as soon as practicable.
Deputy Inder added:
"If the States' decision is to postpone the Election, we are going to have to limit the amount of new business we deal with, after June, to matters that are strictly urgent. We have to be mindful that we were elected on the basis that our term of office would end in June. Careful consideration will need to be given to how States' business can be managed in such an extraordinary situation."
The States of Guernsey are issuing regular guidance to members of the public in light of the emerging situation, which can be accessed on the www.gov.gg website and via the local media.
Further information about the General Election can be found on https://election2020.gg/.