A DECISION not to issue polling cards for Otley's by-election has been branded 'undemocratic'.

An election will be held next Thursday, March 22 to fill an Otley Town Council vacancy in the West Chevin ward.

The Liberal Democrats controlled council says it will be saving taxpayers £2,000 by not sending out polling cards.

The group also claims residents will have been informed of the election details anyway, without public expense, due to leaflet drops by the various parties.

Labour's candidate for the ward, Liz Carr, however believes the decision will disenfranchise some voters.

She said: "This wasn’t agreed at any formal meeting and there was no regard for letting the candidates from the other parties know.

"You don’t need a polling card to go and vote, but I can’t stress enough that several people, young and old, that we talked to last weekend thought they couldn't vote without one.

"I and the Labour campaign team will be working flat out between now and the election to let voters know they just need to give their name and address at the polling station at Westgate Primary School on March 22."

Former Labour town councillor John Eveleigh said: "It’s vital local elections are fair and open.

"It seems extraordinary that a small group of town councillors, whose right to run the council depends on having been fairly elected, now won’t spend money on the democratic process."

The Liberal Democrats insist their decision was driven by a commitment not to 'waste money'.

Town Council Chair Councillor Ray Georgeson (Lib Dem, Danefield) said: "We Liberal Democrats have already made sure everyone in West Chevin knows the election is on - for free!

"Poll cards would cost Otley taxpayers another £2,000.

"Given that they are discretionary we took the decision to save money and not send them."

The party's candidate for West Chevin, Jo Allen, said: "Remember that poll cards are not needed to go and vote.

"It's our responsibility as candidates and political parties to inform the voters and, rest assured, we will be doing this with energy and enthusiasm."

The Green Party West Chevin candidate, Cath Harrison said: "It falls on the parties contesting the by-election, as well as this paper, to make sure everyone in West Chevin is aware of the opportunity to cast their vote on Thursday, March 22.

"Otley Green Party will be doing all we can to ensure this."

Town Councillor Mick Bradley (Green, Danefield) added: "It is a concern some voters may not vote believing, wrongly, that a polling card is necessary - or simply forget a by-election is happening on March 22.

"However, I understand that the town council already has a bill of more than £5,000 to pay for this by-election and this (issuing polling cards) would add a further £2,000, which does need to be considered."

Former town and ward councillor Gerard Francis, an Honorary Alderman of Leeds, is standing for the Conservative Party.

He said: "I think this is very unusual - I can't remember an election when they didn't issue polling cards.

"My understanding is that just two senior Liberal Democrat councillors made the decision.

"I don't think it's good practice and I don't think the cards would cost anything like the £2,000 they're claiming*.

"You don't need polling cards to vote but they're a useful reminder to the electors, a lot of whom will throw party political leaflets straight in the bin."

*The town council has provided figures which show that it was quoted a price of just over £1,914 for printing and posting poll cards for the by-election.