COVID-19: England's local elections to go ahead in May - with voters told to bring their own pens

·3-min read

Local elections will go ahead in England in May with councils being given an extra £30m to make polling stations and counts COVID-secure.

Voters will be asked to bring their own pens or pencils to fill in their ballot papers, while the wearing of face coverings will be made compulsory in polling stations.

Hand sanitiser, divider screens, and social distancing markers will also be provided at polling stations, while new measures to reduce travel for potential candidates when completing their nomination forms will be introduced.

Proxy voting rules will be changed to allow those who need to self-isolate to request an emergency proxy vote up to 5pm on polling day itself.

Ministers are also reminding all voters they can request a postal vote in advance of polling day, although the government will not be imposing compulsory postal voting due to fears of an increased risk of fraud.

On Thursday 6 May, elections will be held across England's county councils, metropolitan boroughs, unitary authorities and district councils, as well as for the London Assembly.

Elections will also be held for police and crime commissioners in England and Wales, as well as for 13 directly-elected mayors in England - including in London.

Most of the elections were postponed for 12 months following their cancellation last year due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

Although England is still in a national lockdown, the government justified the holding of elections this year by pointing to how elections have been held under COVID restrictions in countries such as Ireland, France, Italy, Portugal, Israel, South Korea and the United States.

By 6 May, the nine most vulnerable groups in the UK should also have received COVID vaccines under the nationwide vaccination programme.

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Chloe Smith, constitution and devolution minister, said: "We are publishing a detailed plan to deliver May's elections in a safe and secure way.

"This is backed up by additional funding for councils, and practical changes to electoral laws to help both voters and candidates.

"Democracy should not be cancelled because of COVID.

"More than ever, local people need their say as we build back better, on issues ranging from local roads, to safer streets, to the level of council tax.

"As the government rolls out the vaccine to the most vulnerable, we will be able to leave lockdown and open our country up safely again.

"We will work with political parties to ensure that these important elections are free and fair."

There will be an estimated £92m of government grant funding to local authorities for this year's elections, of which £31m is directly linked to additional costs for making polling stations and counts COVID-secure.

May's elections will be the first electoral tests for politicians since the coronavirus crisis began.

It will also be the first elections for Labour under their new leader, Sir Keir Starmer.

An Electoral Commission spokesperson said: "It is an important democratic principle that elections should proceed as scheduled whenever possible.

"The electoral community has been preparing for Covid-safe elections since last March, when the 2020 elections were postponed.

"Together, we have taken steps to help everyone involved take part safely and confidently."