Tuesday, 14 December 2010

West Lindsey District Council Move to Whole 'All Out' Elections

Yesterday evening Conservative-led West Lindsey District Council voted to change the electoral process by which elections to the local authority are conducted.

Since the authority's creation in April 1974 the district has elected councillors by the 'Thirds' principle - that is to say that every year an election is held for one third of the seats on the council and in the fourth year an election takes place for Lincolnshire County Council. Councillors are elected to serve a four year term of office.

West Lindsey District Council is one of the two hundred and one local authorities that are part of the two-tier system of local government - with a county council and district council. Of these councils sixty-nine elect their members by the 'thirds' method, currently used by West Lindsey District Council to elect one third of the membership every year excepting the year when elections are held for the county council. The majority, one hundred and twenty-three elect their members in 'all out', whole council elections, whereby every councillor is elected at the same time. The remaining seven authorities elect by the 'halves' method where half the councillors are elected at any election, in one year the county council has an election and one year no election takes place.

The West Lindsey district is divided into twenty five wards the wards vary in terms of the number of councillors returned and a number of other factors. Gainsborough North and East both return three councillors, the South West ward returns two councillors together with the Caistor, Cherry Willingham, Market Rasen, Nettleham, Saxilby, Scotter and Welton wards. Finally, the Bardney, Dunholme, Fiskerton, Hemswell, Kelsey, Lea, Middle Rasen, Scampton, Stow, Sudbrooke, Thonock, Torksey, Waddingham & Spital, Wold View and Yarborough wards all return one councillor.

In total there are thrity-seven councillors elected as members of West Lindsey District Council.

Across the non-metropolitan district councils (both in single-tier and two-tier areas) in England twenty-four percent of the wards are single-member wards, forty percent are two-member wards and thirty-six percent represent three-member wards. (Following the creation of a unitary authority in Central Bedfordshire there will be six four-member wards for a transitional period between 2009 and 2011.) As a general rule a two-member ward contains around twice as many electors as a single-member ward and a three-member ward contains three times as many electors as a single-member ward.

Where a district council holds elections by thirds a third of the councillors for the whole council will be elected at each annual election. Electors in a three-member ward will vote in each of the elections, electors in a two-member ward will vote in two out of three and electors in a single-member ward will vote in one of the three elections. The particular year that those electors will vote varies from authority to authority.

As of yesterday's meeting elections for all councillors will take place once every four years - with the first whole council election on Thursday, 5th May 2011.

Some of the benefits of the Whole Council system are listed, although not an exhaustive list:
  • A Council has a clear mandate from the electorate for four years.
  • An elector can vote for the whole Council as well as a Councillor. It creates greater stability over the four year period with no chance (subject to by-elections) of a change in political control.
  • Greater propensity for change in political control.
  • It avoids a situation where political control of the Council can change in election by thirds when some electors in single member wards have no opportunity to vote.
  • All electors get an equal opportunity to vote and vote together (currently some only vote once or twice in the three yearly cycle if they live in a one or two member Ward).
  • Greater publicity for whole Council election may generate higher turnout.
  • Evidence suggests that there is slightly higher turn out in whole Council elections
  • Evidence suggests that electorate associates more clearly with whole Council elections.
  • There is likely to be reduced expenditure for the Council because of running fewer elections.
  • Correspondingly a reduced expenditure by political parties because of fewer elections.
  • Less campaigning needed by parties.

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