Your vote: a simple way to play active part in future of West Northants
Time is fast running out for residents to register to vote at the ballot box with the deadline being 11.59pm on Monday (April 19)
Northamptonshire will go to the polls next month to elect members of its two new unitary authorities heralding a fresh start for local government in the county.
There will also be elections for the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner, and for parish and town councils.
But time is fast running out for residents to register to vote at the ballot box with the deadline being 11.59pm on Monday (April 19).
Ahead of the elections on May 6, Northants local democracy reporter, Sol Buckner asked the returning officer for West Northamptonshire, who is also the chief executive officer for West Northamptonshire Council, Anna Earnshaw, a series of questions including one about how easy it is to register online.
Here are the questions and answers:
(Q) In today's world, how important is it to use your vote?
(A) It’s incredibly important. While many people have little reason to seek the help of their councils and might typically only contact the council for things like missed bin collections, many more rely on the council for vital services for children and vulnerable adults, for housing and for help.
But beyond that, the council is responsible for many more services and things that residents and businesses rely upon every day like roads, education, waste, leisure and bus services.
Using your vote means that you expressed your wishes about how these services are run and who you want to run them.
(Q) Why is electoral turnout still so low in the local elections and how can residents be encouraged to vote?
(A) I am not sure that all residents and businesses realise that councils are responsible for so much and why local voices about the running of local services, matters.
It’s incumbent on us to make sure people know our plans and priorities and take an interest, and for us to stimulate that interest in local decisions, and we intend to do more of this.
Based on talking to my own children, I think young people today perhaps also don’t understand the difference and roles of councils and central government or see why they would be interested.
We need to encourage them to have a say and consider how taking part and using their vote can really shape their future in terms of houses available, shops to visit, and schools for their future children.
(Q) Would electronic voting be a way to encourage more voting as used in Estonia for example?
(A) It’s definitely something that might help more people engage in this busy modern world. It is how much of the population is used to doing business and interacting on things.
I think this would definitely appeal to younger voters but we would need to be careful not to disenfranchise those without IT or who would always prefer to physically vote.
The challenge of moving to such methods though comes from the security and fraud risks and how we make sure that votes are genuine and from the registered voter.
It will take time to build a robust system where we can be assured that this is mitigated. But as technology develops our ability to do this safely and securely will no doubt also improve.
(Q) Residents have just filled in the 2021 UK Census on line - could a similar system be used to encourage more people to vote?
(A) The census is a big logistical exercise but an important one in understanding our society and helping predict what services we will need.
There are many countries where voting is mandated in the same way as the census and this does guarantee participation.
But we need to balance this against making sure voters use their vote effectively and meaningfully and that we engage with them, while understanding the choices and policies on offer.
(Q) With applications to vote closing on Monday (April 19) can you explain to residents how simple the process is to register online and how they can do it?
(A) The process is very simple, if you have access to the internet you can just go online at www.gov.uk/registertovote and follow the instructions. You will need your National Insurance Number to hand. If you need a paper form, then just contact your local elections office and we will send one out to you.
(Q) And do you think residents could be even more inspired to vote for a new authority such as West Northamptonshire?
(A) Yes definitely, this is a new council and a fresh start for our area. The members who are elected to serve will have a tenure of four years over which to make good on our ambitions for significant changes and improvements.
We have talked about these for a long time and now the new council is here, we need to set our plans to deliver our vision to make West Northants a great place to live, work, visit and thrive.
Taking part in the elections and voting is a simple way of being an active part of that future and mandating local councillors to ensure we deliver on the promises made.
Read here for more information about all the different elections taking place next month: