May election polling stations ‘will look very different’ due to Covid-19 measures

An East Riding Council officer has said preparations for elections in May will be “extremely challenging” as he revealed what polling will look like during the coronavirus pandemic.

Tuesday, 30th March 2021, 9:35 am
East Riding Council’s Election Manager Simon Clark said officers were currently booking the more than 300 polling stations needed for the area ahead of Thursday, May 6.

East Riding Council’s Election Manager Simon Clark said officers were currently booking the more than 300 polling stations needed for the area ahead of Thursday, May 6.

Mr Clark added they would look “very different” due to coronavirus measures, with some having to operate a one in, one out system to maintain social distancing.

His comments come as East Riding voters are set to receive a polling letter, rather than the usual card, on Tuesday, March 30.

The council is overseeing Police and Crime Commissioner elections for the Humber region, with by elections for councillors in South East Holderness and South West Holderness also taking place.

A number of town and parish council elections are also taking place, including in Beverley.

The council is set to publish its election notice on Monday and candidates will have until Thursday, April 8 to submit their paperwork if they want to stand.

Mr Clark said: “We’re currently in the process of booking all our polling stations, that’s no mean feat because it’s a massive geographic area and this year will be extremely challenging.

“We’re also working hard to get polling station and counting staff appointed, we’re looking at about 650 for the East Riding.

“That’s been challenging for some of my colleagues in other councils, one has just had 150 staff drop out because they’re worried about a possible third wave of coronavirus.

“But we’re taking lots of steps to make sure electors and staff are safe on the day, it’s going to be very different to what voters are used to.

“We’re sending out letters rather than cards this year so we can include information about measures in place for coronavirus.

“Public Health England and the Electoral Commission have already issued guidance about what needs to be in place.

“On the day voters will see all the usual signage about keeping two metres apart, they’ll be asked to wash their hands before they go in and also after they’ve cast their vote.

“Staff will be behind perspex screens and we’re recommending that voters bring their own pen or pencil but we will have sanitised ones available too.

“The key is for people to be in and out as quickly as possible.”

Mr Clark said voters would be advised to stay at home if they are displaying coronavirus symptoms, but added new measures were coming to ensure they could still take part.

The manager said: “We’ll be taking all steps to make sure voters are safe, it’s a fundamental democratic and human right to take part in an election.

“For those who’d rather not come to polling stations they can apply for a postal vote or appoint a proxy, there’s still time for people to do those things.

“We’ve seen a slight rise in applications for postal votes but so far the levels aren’t significant.

“If someone intends to vote in a polling station but comes down with coronavirus symptoms just before they will be able to appoint an emergency medical proxy voter until 5pm on polling day.

“Currently voters can appoint an emergency medical proxy if they declare and get it signed off by their doctor, but there’s new legislation going through Parliament as we speak to expand that to cover coronavirus.

“Research from the Electoral Commission recently showed the pandemic isn’t likely to affect turn out, there were a number of elections in Scotland last year and they didn’t see any big dips.”

Lists of candidates are set to be published no later than 4pm on Friday, April 9.

The deadline for postal vote and postal proxy vote registrations is 5pm on Tuesday, April 20.

Voters can appoint a proxy to vote in person by 5pm on Tuesday, April 27, excluding emergency medical proxies.

Article by Joe Gerrard, Local Democracy Reporting Service