Masks, sanitisers and Perspex screens at London’s Covid-secure polling stations

<p>London Elects set up set up a mock polling station to demonstrate how the new rules would apply</p> (Handout)

London Elects set up set up a mock polling station to demonstrate how the new rules would apply

(Handout)

Election chiefs have sought to reassure Londoners that polling stations will be as “covid secure” as possible to protect them when voting in person for the next mayor.

Electors are asked to wear masks, sanitise their hands on entry and exit, follow a one-way system, maintain social distancing and take home the pencil they are given to mark their ballot papers – or bring their own.

Queueing will be required if too many voters turn up at once, with voters told the process may take longer than normal. Polling station staff will sit behind Perspex screens.

The precautions mean it will also take officials an extra day to count the ballots, with the winner not due to be announced until the evening of Saturday May 8 – or possibly even the morning of Sunday, May 9, the Standard understands.

Voters are being told not to vote in person if they have covid symptoms or if they have been asked to self-isolate. A proxy vote – which allows a trusted friend or family member to vote on their behalf – can be organised up until polling day.

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London Elects, the organisation that is running the polls for the mayor and the London Assembly, the 25-member scrutiny body that is also based at City Hall, set up a mock polling station this week to demonstrate how the new rules would apply.

Lea Goddard, senior elections programme manager at London Elects, said: “We are doing all we can to ensure that voting on May 6 is covid safe and secure.”

He added: “For anyone who is feeling uncertain about voting in person, we are offering other options to be able to vote - by post or by proxy.

“If somebody is uncertain about going to the polling station, they can apply for a postal vote - to the local authority in which they live. That will mean that their ballot papers are sent directly to them at their home address.

“If they don’t wish to vote by that option, they can appoint someone else to vote on their behalf, which is known as a proxy.”

Voters will be given three ballot papers and asked to cast four votes – a first and second choice for mayor, a vote for their constituency member of the London Assembly and a vote for a Londonwide assembly member.

Nominations for candidates for all three elections open on March 22. The list of approved candidate will be published by April 1.

Mayor Sadiq Khan, who is seeking re-election, told the Standard that he was “worried” that turnout could fall due to concerns about covid. He encouraged Londoners to apply to their local borough for a postal vote in the elections.

Mr Khan said: “I am worried about turnout at this election because of the pandemic. People, not unreasonably, have got concerns in relation to the virus. We are keen to make sure that we don’t do anything that inadvertently risks people’s safety, whether it’s our campaigners or Londoners.

“That’s why I’m encouraging Londoners to make sure they are registered to vote and then to register for a postal vote so they can vote safely from home.”

Previous research by the Electoral Commission, the official watchdog, found that one in four electors in London were not registered to vote. About 6.2m people are registered.

Craig Westwood, director of communications at the Electoral Commission, said: “What we are seeing in our public opinion surveying is that people are still really keen to get out and vote, including in polling stations.

“We just want to make sure that the system is there, that people can get out and express their opinion on May 6 and cast their vote with confidence.”

The deadline to register to vote is April 19. Applications for a postal vote have to be made by 5pm on April 20.

The deadline for a regular proxy vote is 5pm on 27 April. An emergency proxy vote - if you get ill on polling day - can be obtained up until 5pm on May 6.

Chloe Smith, the Government minister for the constitution and devolution, said: "More than ever, local people deserve to have their say as we build back better, on issues ranging from local roads, to safer streets, to the level of council tax.

"This Government has put in place a strong set of measures to give voters the confidence to participate in these elections and a choice on how they do so - at a covid-secure polling station, by post or by appointing a proxy.

"Take five minutes to register to vote on GOV.UK and influence change where you live."

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