A STRATFORD Town Council by-election taking place today (Thursday) has acquired a buzz not usually associated with such parish pump proceedings.
First of all, one of the candidates is standing on behalf of the United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip), whose entrance into the world of dog hygiene bins, allotments and cemeteries is a little removed, to say the least, from whether Britain should stay in or pull out of the European Union.
And this week there was another twist—a complaint by Labour candidate Jason Fojtik that voters in the relevant ward, Avenue and New Town, were not being issued with polling cards.
Mr Fojtik told the Herald: “The town council’s actions raise some important questions regarding local democracy. Many voters will not know that an election is actually taking place and will therefore not be able to exercise their right to vote.
“Also, those that are aware of the election may be reluctant to vote without their polling cards and may not be aware of the location of their polling station.”
Mr Fojtik added: “It may suit those who want the status quo to keep quiet about this election but I would urge everyone to vote and make a local choice. Anyone unsure of their polling station can contact the district council on 01789 260209 for further information. A polling card is not needed—please exercise your right to vote.”
Town clerk Sarah Summers told the Herald: “It all comes down to money. It was my decision and not the town council’s decision. I informed everyone and they didn’t object so I went ahead.
“I discussed it with the returning officer and he didn’t have a problem, because it was not a statutory obligation.”
Stratford District Council revealed that the cost of sending polling cards to all 6,000 voters in Avenue and New Town would amount to nearly £2,000. There is no statutory requirement to send out polling cards for town and parish elections, although there is a legal obligation to do so for district, county, parliamentary, European and police and crime commissioner elections.
Mrs Summers stressed that the council had advertised the by-election on its own website and in Tuesday’s issue of Midweek Herald. It was also advertised on the district coun-cil’s website. “We’re not trying to hide the fact that there’s an election,” she said. “Of course we’re not.”
She said she didn’t know exactly what it would have cost to send out the polling cards, but added: “It was not going to be a significantly huge amount, but when we’re having our budget reduced for every single thing, anything that can reduce public spending is vital.”
If cutting public spending was so vital, the Herald asked, why was Stratford Town Council advertising for an administration assistant on a salary of £20,400 to £21,734 a year?
“Because I haven’t got any staff,” Mrs Summers responded. “We still have to execute the council’s business. How am I supposed to do that if I don’t have any staff?”
But Mr Fojtik said many people believed they weren’t able to vote without a polling card. “What I find astonishing is that this decision was taken by the town clerk,” he said. “I would have thought this was a matter of such importance that it would be taken by elected members of the council.”
For the record, the three polling stations being used for the by-election are the Ken Kennett Centre in Justins Avenue, the Friends’ Meeting House in Maidenhead Road and the office of Stratford Baptist Church in Payton Street. Voting will take place between 7am and 10pm.
The candidates are Lezley Bott (Stratford First Independents), Jason Fojtik (Lab), Tony Jefferson (Cons), Paul Offer (Ukip) and Richard Vos (Lib Dem).
The by-election has been caused by the resignation of Bill Lowe (Stratford First Independent) due to ill health.
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