With less than a week to go to the European elections Cornwall Council is getting ready to become the first area in the UK to trial the use of recyclable cardboard polling booths.
The Council’s elections team will be trialling 700 cardboard polling booths alongside existing booths on Thursday, 22 May to see if they meet the needs of both voters and elections staff.
“We have been looking at ways to make elections more affordable, eco-friendly and manageable for our staff” said Dave Cunningham, Cornwall Council’s deputy elections manager.
“One of the areas we have been investigating is the provision of polling booths.
“Both the USA and Australia use cardboard booths and we wanted to see if this would work in Cornwall. As well as being much cheaper to produce, using cardboard booths would also dramatically reduce the costs of storage, transport, cleaning, repairs and replacing existing conventional timber booths at end of their life.”
"Unfortunately there are no mass producers of suitable booths in the UK and conversations with American suppliers indicated that they felt it was not worth their while to supply them to the Council. As a result Dave and the team decided to look at designing their own booths with the help of a company of architects from Exeter.
“We wanted something a bit different, looked funky, was lightweight, fitted into the back of a car (so the presiding officer could take it with them), was simple to put together, and was strong, robust and appropriate for both able and disabled voters.“
Following discussions with the company a curved four person booth was designed, which is low enough for the presiding officer to see over and around, with one low desk for disabled voters. Privacy is maintained by the extended sides and the cover over each desk. .
Conventional timber polling booths currently cost around £85 each plus VAT, with the cost of the cardboard booths used in the trial about £15 each, including the costs of design. It is expected that this cost would fall to around £10 per booth for a large contract.
The council is trialling 700 booths - 100 in each parliamentary constituency. The polling station inspectors will also carry spares in case there are any failures. The trial will cost a total of £11,676 (excluding VAT) for the production of the cardboard booths compared to a comparable cost of £59,500 (excluding VAT) for 700 traditional booths.
Once the booths have been used the supplier will collect them free of charge and recycle them. New booths can be manufactured and supplied within two weeks – reducing any concerns over a snap election! .
The trial has the support of Alex Folkes, the Council’s Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources. “Elections are important and Cornwall will always spend the amount of money needed to make sure they are run properly and people can have confidence in the result” he said. “But if we can save money by making some of the materials, like polling booths, cheaper then that has got to be good news for everyone.
“These prototypes are a fantastic idea and I look forward to seeing them in action on 22 May."
The results of the trial will be analysed by the council before making a final decision on whether to use them in future elections.