Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Polling Station Blues

Regular correspondent Aeres has raised with me the disruption caused to schools at election time when polling stations cause them to close.

He points out that the school attended by his child has been closed twice this year (for the local elections and the referendum). He adds;

Surely if the council is committed to increasing school attendance it should be reconsidering whether the school is the only suitable building in the area with which to house a polling station? Although my daughter attends Whinfield, we actually live on 'the other side of the railway line' meaning that our polling station is a portacabin on Glebe Road. As we are able to vote perfectly well in such base surroundings surely the people of Haughton could vote somewhere else and not disrupt the education of their children? On the flip side it may even be good politically and enphasise the message that 'education matters'.

I think that's an entirely valid set of points. The Council is currently in the throes of a review of polling districts and polling places. Comments have been received - not surprisingly, the issue highlighted by Aeres was raised by a number of people. You can see the officers' initial responses to the consultation here. If anyone would like to comment of the feedback, then they can do so by emailing This will inform a report to Full Council next month.

There are, of course, no easy solutions. I understand that Redcar and Cleveland took the decision a couple of years ago to not use schools as polling stations at all, preferring portakabins, but are now having to reconsider as securing access for disabled people has proved a real problem. Portakabins are also expensive (£2,000 for a day's hire each) and in Darlington they are then fitted with a special ramp so everyone can use them, (costing another £2,000 a time).

Feedback from staff who staffed the portakabins during the referendum was that they were very cold, as the doors had to be always open. They also can't take account of tellers from the various parties. They tend to lack toilet facilities.

It should also be remembered that it isn't the Council which closes schools, but the headteacher concerned. Now the Council is looking to work with affected schools to see whether it would be possible to use some of the premises as a polling station whilst ensuring that the rest of the building stays open. In the long-term, that may be the most effective way of keeping more kids at school (and their parents at work) on polling days.


miketually said...

In the dim and distant past (82to 88), I went to Red Hall school. It had a disused classroom which was used as a polling station, but we never got any time off.

How do I go about getting work used as a polling station, so that I can get an extra day or two off every 4 years?

Ian White, said...

What about church's, most areas have them and they are always in need of funds, much cheaper than spending 1000's on portakabins.
So perhaps a nice donation would solve the problem in many areas.

miketually said...

I was wondering why my polling station didn't move over the road to the EV when Springfield School did and was replaced by a portacabin. What will happen when the land is built upon? said...

DBC will have to pay Kajima to park a portakabin at the EV!

Darlington Councillor said...

I'm not sure about the last point, Ian.

Mike - the site of Springfield School was chosen because it replicated the location of the previous polling station.

Whilst it's mostly politicians and officers who get worked up about points such as these, it is the case that the Education Village is in Haughton East, and so outside the ward boundary.

Of course, that hasn't stopped us holding our ASDA surgeries in Haughton North, and it's entirely possible that the EV will be the site of a polling station next time round for Haughton West residents in the KB polling district, although hopefully with a minimum of disruption to lessons.

I'll keep people informed of progress on this matter.

miketually said...

Ah, I'd not realised Salter's Lane was the boundary between the two wards.

The redeveloped Green Hut would make a good location for a polling station.

Paul Leake said...

I've certainly known of cases where polling stations have been beyond ward boundaries (particularly for rural areas) or where boundaries reflect roads rather than community identities. Depending on ward boundaries a site outside the ward may be a more convenient location for more residents than the available site within the ward.

Schools as polling stations are a real issue, although at least with General Elections (because of the media coverage) and scheduled local elections parents will be aware in advance. One school in Durham was shut down several times for parish council by-elections and several parents brought their kids in to school only to be turned away.

Anonymous said...

On the mention of Tellers from the various parties - it should be noted by Cabinet Members and the other Councillors that the Tellers are not, that is NOT allowed to either ask for ther voters card or take the voters card from them to ascertain the individual reference number to record who has voted at en election or a referendum. The party political tellers are massively overstepping the line in these respects. The general public should be made fully aware that the only people at the polling station to whom they must give their details are the ones INSIDE the Polling Station not the ones in the ante-rooms or outside.

This is a matter of deep concern to many voters.

This must be changed.

It used to be said that the tellers took the details of those who had voted so that others could be door knocked or offered a lift to the polling station. Those days are long gone, and cannotin any way justify the requests of vigilant party tellers who INSIST that they have a right to see your voting card. They most certainly DO NOT.

Would You Cllr Wallis confirm this and agree to correct the practice at all DBC polling stations?

Aeres said...


Thanks for raising this on my behalf - I've just got back from holiday otherwise I would've commented sooner.

Its been interesting to see that this is a far wider concern than I originally thought - for some reason I thought it was just myself that was irked by it. I guess that the fact that it appears there are so few alternatives available highlights the lack of accessible community facilities in many areas of the town.

Ironically enough, Whinfield School actually has a couple of portacabins as classrooms anyway but presumably the problem would be isolating them from the rest of the school to enable it to be left open. That said, it may be an outlay worth paying rather than closing the school or paying exhorbitant hire charges.

Thanks for raising it anyway - I guess we'll see what happens.

miketually said...

There must also be a cost associated with closing the school in paying staff to have an extra day off (even a newly qualified teacher is on £100 a day), in loss of child care causing parents to take time off work and in lower educational achievement.

Perhaps Asda's new petrol station could include a small room for use as a poling station? ;)