One in ten voters may be forced to stay away from voting in a by-election next month, after Hertsmere Council scheduled it for the first day of Succot.
Community leaders expressed ‘disappointment’ this week, after the local authority “did not check religious days” on their calendar for potential clashes, while scheduling the vote in Kenilworth ward, Borehamwood.
Organisers have been urged to re-arrange the vote in the ward, which has an 11 percent Jewish population, to allow more observant constituents to participate.
However, Hertsmere’s Returning Officer Donald Graham said he is: “Very sorry that I am unable to accommodate a change to the date” for the vote, currently scheduled for 5 October.
Trying to reassure Jewish voters, he said both postal and proxy votes can be arranged, and that he has “increased the print run for postal votes to accommodate any increased demand.”
Explaining reasons for the clash, he said: “I was obliged to set a date for an election within 35 working days. In doing so officers duly checked our calendar days that led to the choice of 5th October as the first available Thursday. Unlike when setting our council and committee meetings we did not check religious days for any faith groups.”
“I am also now told that the next Thursday, 12 October, is also a Jewish holiday.”
Leader of the Council, Councillor Morris Bright, also added: “As a Jew I understand wholeheartedly the frustration faced by some electors who will be unable to cast their vote in person on the date of the forthcoming local council by election … I too am very sorry for any inconvenience the date of this by-election will cause to some members of our local Jewish community.”
The council has since issued a statement with details for registering for postal and proxy votes.
Daniel Elton, a constituent of the ward and government affairs officer at the Board of Deputies said says the the clash means “observant Jews cannot make a mark with a pencil, thereby being unable to vote on the day itself. Other restrictions on the day of a festival make it impossible to campaign, and any observant candidate would have to absent him or herself from participation on the day itself.”
He added, the Board “would like as many Jews as possible to vote and be engaged in the political process…This is particularly true in Hertsmere and Borehamwood, given that Jewish residents make up a high percentage of the borough (14%) and, indeed, the ward (11%).”
A spokesperson from the Board said: “We are very disappointed that that this by election is going to be held on a date which will prevent a large number of Jews in this ward from participating in the electoral process on the day.
“We would urge those who are observing Succot to ensure they have registered for a postal vote and would urge councils with significant Jewish and other minority faith populations to avoid religious festivals when setting elections.”
Chair of Hertsmere Labour Party, Jeremy Newmark called it a “disappointing” move, as “alternative dates are available”.
He added, that “postal and proxy votes are not suitable alternatives for some people. The early deadline for postal votes also often forces people to vote before they have had a chance to fully question candidates or their representatives.
“Furthermore, they do not solve the problem of disenfranchisement of observant Jewish election candidates, Party Agents, or activists who wish to exercise their democratic rights to play a full role in activity on polling day itself. We urge Hertsmere to think again and consider the Equalities implication of this decision.”