(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.
|Reduced number of people allowed in polling stations||Yes|
|Size of polling stations increased||Yes|
|Increased number of polling stations||No|
|Floor markings and barriers||Yes|
|Extension of voting from one day to several days||No|
|Dedicated polling booths for persons with respiratory symptoms||No|
|Personal protective equipment for polling station staff||Yes|
|Masks mandatory for voters entering polling stations||Yes|
|Masks for voters provided by election commission||No|
|Disposable gloves mandatory for voters||No|
|Masks recommended for voters entering polling stations||Yes|
|Gloves provided by EMB||Unclear|
|Mandatory use of hand sanitizers||No (just provided)|
|Sanitation of electoral materials / periodic cleaning of polling station / vent polling stations||Yes|
|Optional use of hand sanitizers||Yes|
|Sanitizing of hands upon entering the polling station and before dipping into the voting ink||N/a|
|The voter recommended bringing pens||Yes|
|EMB provided disposable pens||No|
|Extra polling station staff who will ensure compliance with health measures and social distancing||Unclear – locally determined|
|Extended working hours of polling stations||Unclear – locally determined|
|Selecting voting personnel outside risk groups||No|
|Special accommodations and priorities in queues||No|
|Queue control||Unclear – locally determined|
|Restriction on commercial activities close to polling stations||Yes|
|Limitations celebratory gatherings during result announcements||Unclear|
|Posters outside polling stations warning voter to take precautions against COVID-19||Yes|
|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 app||No|