(This text is being updated as new measures are announced/clarified). Last updated: 1st March 2020.

We now know a lot more about how the local elections in England will take place, this May. There had long been speculation that they would be delayed, with some media reports claiming that a postponement had been decided. The publication of a May 2021 Polls Delivery Plan seemed to make it clear that elections were coming. The government has since published more guidance on political campaigning and party/candidate activities. Secondary legislation will make proxy voting more widely available.

How does this plan compare to that delivered in other countries? During 2020 many countries ran elections during the pandemic. We (Alistair Clark and colleagues at IDEA) have been tracking how countries have responded to the pandemic. In a recent piece we set out the polling station health and safety measures that have been put in place worldwide within polling station. In the table below, I have marked out the procedures used worldwide, and what is in the Cabinet Office plan for elections in England. The Electoral Commission has also published guidance for Returning Officers in England and Wales. Importantly, this only refers to England – the power to organise the specific elections to be held in May in Wales and Scotland is devolved, for the most part.

What is similar?

Most measures that have been used worldwide during the pandemic in 2020, will also be coming to polling stations in England. There are plans for social distancing measures, masks will be required for voters in polling stations and hand sanitizing will be made available. Polling station venues may change to larger venues and voters will be encouraged to provide their own pen. There is therefore a lot of evidence of measures being shared across countries.

Many of the procedures will be familiar to citizens from other aspects of their lives during the pandemic.

What is different?

Not all measures used elsewhere are planned for, however. This is not to say that they should be. But it is worth noting where England diverges.

There will be no temperature checks, for example, a measure used in South Korea. Voters will bring their own masks, rather than have them provided. The use of santisers doesn’t seem to be compulsory (it will just be ‘available’).

But one of the more interesting measures used in some countries has been the introduction of priority queues at polling stations. This would mean that some vulnerable groups – the elderly or pregnant could queue jump -or have a special queue to vote. This would be very unusual for polling stations in England. Although queues are not common, they can appear at peak times – at people are expected to vote in the order that they arrived.

The idea of priority queues, however, could be considered what Holly Ann Garnett and I defined as an inclusive voting practice. This is where proactive steps are taken to reduced inequalities in the electoral process. Given that the vulnerable might be less likely to vote than they usually would – this would be worth considering in the elections ahead.

There is also no early voting.

Social DistancingYes
Reduced number of people allowed in polling stationsYes
Size of polling stations increasedYes
Increased number of polling stationsNo
Floor markings and barriersYes
Extension of voting from one day to several days No
Dedicated polling booths for persons with respiratory symptomsNo
Personal protective equipment for polling station staffYes
Masks mandatory for voters entering polling stationsYes
Masks for voters provided by election commissionNo
Disposable gloves mandatory for votersNo
Masks recommended for voters entering polling stationsYes
Gloves provided by EMBUnclear
Mandatory use of hand sanitizersNo (just provided)
Sanitation of electoral materials / periodic cleaning of polling station / vent polling stationsYes
Optional use of hand sanitizersYes
Sanitizing of hands upon entering the polling station and before dipping into the voting inkN/a
Temperature checksNo
The voter recommended bringing pensYes
EMB provided disposable pensNo
Extra polling station staff who will ensure compliance with health measures and social distancingUnclear – locally determined
Extended working hours of polling stationsUnclear – locally determined
Selecting voting personnel outside risk groupsNo
Special accommodations and priorities in queuesNo
Queue controlUnclear – locally determined
Restriction on commercial activities close to polling stationsYes
Limitations celebratory gatherings during result announcementsUnclear
Posters outside polling stations warning voter to take precautions against COVID-19Yes
Mock pollsNo
Delineation of voting times – for example, assigning voters specific hours or days (for instance, by last name or address)No
Recommended to use national COVID-19 tracing appNo

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