Bristol City Council is consulting on how often we should vote for our councillors. Bristol voters’ views are being sought on whether we should change to whole council elections every four years starting in May 2013, or retain the existing system of elections by thirds. The change would see the whole council elected at the same time. This page gives background information and the arguments for both electoral cycles to help you give an informed view on the issue.
The consultation closes on 30 November 2012.
Bristol City Council has 70 Councillors representing 35 wards (small parts of the city which together cover the whole of Bristol). Each ward is represented by two councillors, and each councillor is elected for a four-year term of office.
Current cycle – elections by thirds
Currently the Council holds ‘elections by thirds’ which means that elections are held for 23 or 24 seats each year for three successive years out of four. As each ward has 2 councillors, voters go the polls twice over a 4 year period to elect one of the councillors for their ward.
Whole council elections
The Council has the power to change its electoral arrangements to ‘whole council elections’ which would mean that all seats on the Council would be elected at the same time, once every four years.
Timing of any change
If approved, the earliest date to hold whole council elections would be May 2013 with the following election in May 2017. However, Bristol decided in May 2012 to have a directly elected mayor on a 4 year term. The election for this mayor will take place in November 2012, however, it would not be possible to hold whole council elections then. If councillors decide on whole council elections from May 2013 it would not provide the opportunity to synchronise the election with elected mayor elections (Nov 2012 and then May 2016)
Councillors could decide to start whole council elections in May 2016 – this is the date when Bristol will vote again to elect a mayor. This would then synchronise mayoral and council elections and achieve maximum cost savings for holding elections in the long term. It would, however, mean continuing with electing by thirds for 2013, 2014 and 2015.
Full council meeting – outcome of the consultation
A meeting of the Full Council on 15th January 2013 will consider the issue further. The meeting will be webcast live at www.bristol.gov.uk/webcast
Reasons to keep elections by thirds
- Elections in three years out of every four provide more frequent opportunities for electors to vote and to influence the political make up of the Council. This may therefore provide more immediate political accountability and provide a more up-to-date reflection of the views of local people.
- Electing by thirds means that there is more continuity of councillors, without any chance of them all being replaced in a single election.
- Voting for one councillor at a time under ‘elections by thirds’ is well understood by voters. Voting for two councillors at the same time under ‘whole council elections’ could cause confusion.
- An election by thirds provides a regular influx of newly elected councillors who can bring new ideas and fresh approaches to the Council.
- Elections by thirds is the system that electors in the city are used to and the withdrawal of the opportunity to vote more frequently may disengage some of the city’s electors if they only vote once every four years, as opposed to the two elections they vote in under elections by thirds.
Reasons to change to whole council elections
- A clear mandate from the electorate once every four years could enable the Council to adopt a more strategic, long-term approach to policy and decision making – and focus less on yearly election campaigning.
- The results from whole council elections are simpler and more easily understood by the electorate. This may increase turnout at local elections.
- Whole council elections would be more compatible with Bristol’s recent decision to adopt a directly elected mayor for the city, as mayors are also elected on a four yearly cycle. (The elections would not be at the same time though if all-out elections started in May 2013)
- There would be a clearer opportunity for the electorate to change the political composition of the council once every four years.
- Holding whole council elections once every four years, rather than smaller elections every three years out of four, would cost less and be less disruptive for public buildings used as polling stations (eg. schools).