THIS MAY’S local elections are expected to cost Waverley and East Hampshire taxpayers more than £200,000 – with election officials already busy planning one of the most logistically challenging elections in decades.

Earlier this month, the government confirmed polls would go ahead as planned on May 6 – with ballots to be held for both Surrey and Hampshire county councils, as well as the delayed police and crime commissioner elections, and a neighbourhood plan referendum in Witley.

But democracy comes at a price – with local election authorities such as Waverley and East Hampshire having to go to extraordinary lengths to keep voters and staff Covid safe.

Every polling station is to be fitted with screens and hand sanitiser, postal voting forms are being sent to all those eligible to vote, and a lengthy counting process spanning multiple days is planned after the polls close.

Voters will also have to wear masks and take their own pen. And those who have to isolate or shield can nominate a proxy as late as 5pm on polling day.

Candidates will also likely see their campaigns limited to canvassing online, by phone, or by mail – with concerns this could disadvantage poorer candidates.

Waverley Borough Council currently projects a cost of £228,000 to run this May’s elections, although East Hampshire District Council said its own costs are still being assessed.

The great majority of these costs will be reimbursed by the county councils and police commissioner’s office – albeit with more public money.

Covid infection rates are currently dropping. But should they rise again, the last date the polls could feasibly be called off is before the notice of election is published on March 22.

The amount of taxpayers’ cash “wasted” on a cancelled election would, according to a Waverley spokesman, depend on “how late such an announcement would come, when the new election date is and how much of the work down can be diverted to the new election date”.

But East Hampshire is hopeful that at least staffing costs will be lower than in previous years “as the counts will be held according to social-distancing guidelines.”