Elections are fast approaching in parts of England, Scotland and Wales.
On 6th May, millions of people within the UK will be afforded the opportunity to vote for thousands of positions of power.
As many elections scheduled for May 2020 were significantly disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, an unusually large number of positions are up for election on this occasion as last year’s scheduled elections will be run in conjunction with the 2021 election schedule.
While data produced by the UK Government has indicated that people testing positive for COVID-19 in the UK has fallen significantly since the latest peak of January 2021, the COVID-19 virus is still present within British society.
Despite the continuing threat caused by the COVID-19 virus, the UK Government’s stated position is that “democracy should not be cancelled because of COVID-19” and has published the ‘May 2021 Polls Delivery Plan’ to determine how elections will proceed safely. The Scottish Government and the Welsh Government have also produced relevant guidance to support Council’s and candidates.
Councils must ensure that the elections can take place safely within the context of the continuing public health concerns.
Voters have access to three methods of voting:
As voting in person will still be available for all those who would like to attend a polling station, protecting staff, volunteers and members of the public during the local elections has to be a priority for Councils through the creation of COVID-Secure polling stations.
Once the polling stations are closed, votes must be counted and results announced as efficiently as possible. These processes must also be COVID-19 secure.
In order to achieve COVID-Secure polling stations and processes and control the risk of virus transmission, Councils must start by completing or updating their COVID-19 risk assessments to include all activities associated with the local elections.
The COVID-19 risk assessments must consider the risk of direct human-to-human virus transmission as well as indirect transmission via infected surfaces. Control measures will then need to be identified and implemented.
Control measures should include:
* Masks and face coverings are not required for those people who are medically exempted, or for staff who are located behind individual screens.
The Electoral Commission also suggest some practical measures for implementation, including:
The United Kingdom maintains a proven track record for running successful elections to the highest standards.
To run successful elections, the electorate must maintain confidence in the ability of Councils to run elections in a way that meets the highest standards of democratic integrity.
In today’s public health context, Councils must also ensure that the health and wellbeing of voters, staff and candidates are protected from the risks presented by COVID-19.
Councils are now be well-versed in the implementation of COVID-secure measures within their workplaces and so should consider the forthcoming elections as a natural extension of these measures.
The electorate should have confidence that the right precautions are in place.