Election 2019

General election 2019, Your Questions Answered: What if there is a flood on polling day?

Flooded streets in Worksop
Image caption Towns and villages across the East Midlands and Yorkshire - including Worksop - were flooded in the wettest autumn on record

After flooding hit parts of the country last month, with homes evacuated, roads closed and people trapped upstairs, what would happen if it were to repeat on polling day?

Ashok Vaitha, 60, from Braunstone Town, Leicester, got in touch using Your Questions Answered to raise this point and we investigated.

What if a polling station floods?

Image caption There was severe flooding in Darley Dale where the body of Derbyshire's former High Sheriff Annie Hall was found

In an emergency, councils can turn to a makeshift polling station which could be a car boot or a tent - just as long as voting can be done in secret. In extreme circumstances polling can be postponed to the next day.

"In all instances, it is at the discretion of the presiding officer to decide if the safety of voters and polling station staff is at risk and, if so, whether to relocate or adjourn the poll," the Electoral Commission said.

Colin Jones, from Blaby District Council which covers the area where Mr Vaitha lives, said: "If a polling station were to become unavailable or inaccessible then, as long as polling station staff have the necessary notices, ballot papers, ballot box and voters can vote in secret, the poll can be conducted outside of the polling station, be it in a caravan, tent, gazebo or even the presiding officer's car.

"Our main aim in this type of scenario is to ensure that voters are able to vote in secret from 07:00 on poll day."

At the local council elections in May this year the key holder for a polling station in Sheffield was late so the clerks did just that.

Image copyright PA
Image caption For the EU referendum in 2016, there was heavy rain in some parts of the country including Newham, east London

"The ballot box was placed in the boot of a car- the voters could mark their paper then put it in the ballot box, this was done facing away from other people so could it be done securely," a spokeswoman for Sheffield City Council said.

She said polling clerks asked for the voters' details, found their documentation and then stepped away from the vehicle - but it was only for about 10 minutes and fewer than five people passed through.

The Electoral Commission said local councils had guidance on how to plan for inclement weather and would do everything they could to ensure voters were able to cast their vote.

Derbyshire Dales District Council, in the area where a woman died after being swept away by floodwater in November, and Ashfield District Council said they would make arrangements for people to vote at a different location.

Have polling stations had to relocate in the past?

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A polling station was underwater when staff arrived in 2016

During the EU referendum in 2016, Devon Way Centre polling station in Kingston upon Thames, south-west London, was under water when staff arrived at 06:15 BST.

A spokesman for the local council said: "Staff had to issue ballot papers under a porch stood in the water until they were given an alternative station at a nearby library, which was being used for another district."

One unlucky member of staff then had to stand in the rain and redirect voters until signs were put in place. Meanwhile leaflets were distributed and a bus was put on to shuttle people between venues.

The council said another polling station was moved later the same day, also because of flooding.

And in European Parliamentary elections this year, an unexploded World War Two bomb forced the evacuation of two churches that were being used as polling stations, again in Kingston upon Thames.

Police erected a cordon and officers told people where they could cast their vote instead. The information was also put on the council website and voters were sent a text message.

What if I can't get to the polling station because of the floods?

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Rescuers used boats to reach people trapped in Rotherham last month

The Electoral Commission said individuals could apply for an emergency proxy vote up until 17:00 on election day and it was up to the returning officer if this was granted.

However, the guidelines suggested this was only an option if voters had a medical emergency or for a last minute reason relating to their occupation, service or employment.

Anyone concerned about not being able to get to a polling station for another reason would be apply for a normal proxy vote until 4 December - this Wednesday.

What are councils doing to prepare for floods?

Image caption Streets in Worksop town centre became rivers as water flooded the town

A polling station in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, has already been moved because of severe flooding that hit the town in November.

Bassetlaw District Council has sent letters to voters informing them of the change and has prepared "mobile units" in case of further problems.

"We are now plotting polling stations against flood maps and flood risk areas and devising a list of emergency polling places in case of further flooding and they would notify the public," a spokesman said.

How likely is flooding in the week of the election?

As ever, predicting the weather this far in advance is difficult but BBC weather presenter Rich Davis said he expected at least some rain.

"At the moment the week of the general election looks likely to be unsettled with wet and windy conditions across the UK," he said.

Any disruption that week from the weather would be more likely to be caused by wind and rain than ice or snow but it was still too far away for the forecast to be very accurate.

But it is December, what if it snows?

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Voters are encouraged to get in touch with friends and family if it snows and they may struggle to get to their polling station

Any voters who might struggle to get to the polls would be encouraged to contact friends and family for help.

In Bassetlaw, election staff will be given snow shovels and bags of grit in the event of a flurry of the white stuff.

"We will be looking at other staffing resources we can deploy to ensure poll stations are safe, open and accessible," the council said.

"We also have a meeting with Nottingham County Council to discuss gritting routes around the election."

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