On Thursday 21 August, just under two million people will get the chance to vote at their local polling station.
It’s the largest single by-election ever held in the United Kingdom – and it’s one nobody wanted.
The contest is to choose a new police and crime commissioner (PCC) for the West Midlands. The previous incumbent, Bob Jones, died in his sleep at the start of July.
Jones, 59, had served as a Labour councillor in Wolverhampton for 33 years. He was also a member of the West Midlands Police Authority.
His unexpected death prompted tributes from across the political spectrum. It also triggered the first ever by-election for a PCC: an event that has been greeted with at best regret and at worst unrestrained scepticism.
The turnout here in 2012 was a pathetic 11.96%. The unusual and sad background to the 2014 contest may attract a bit more interest, but I wouldn’t hold out hope for a tide of people flooding to the polls.
The fact is police and crime commissioners didn’t catch the public’s imagination first time round and haven’t been in existence long enough to quite shake off their sense of being a gimmick. An expensive gimmick at that.
Polling stations for the election of Bob Jones’ successor will be open from 7am to 10pm on 21 August.
To decide the winner, the supplementary voting (SV) system will be used.
This means that if nobody wins more than half the vote on the first count, all candidates bar the top two will get eliminated and their alternative preferences allocated to the survivors.
Whoever emerges with the most number of votes after this round is declared the winner.
At the November 2012 election, none of the seven candidates had an overall majority after the first count, so a second count was held.
The two run-off candidates were Labour’s Bob Jones and the Tories’ Matt Bennett. After second preferences were allocated, Jones ended up with 117,388 votes and Bennett ended up with 55,685.
The result is expected on the afternoon of Friday 22 August, though this could slip into the evening if there is a recount.
The West Midlands PCC is responsible for Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton. It’s a huge area and the role is one that commands a great deal of influence – on paper, at any rate.
Labour is fielding a former government minister and MP as its candidate: David Jamieson. He is the favourite to win and he almost certainly will do so.
There are three other candidates: Les Jones (Conservative); Ayoub Khan (Liberal Democrat) and Keith Rowe (Ukip).
This most atypical of contests, held in the most tragic of circumstances, could turn out to be the most uninspiring of political events this side of the general election. Just how many of those two million people actually come out to vote on 21 August is something that ought to concentrate the minds of everyone involved in drawing up manifestos for next year.