Voters are heading to the polls today as local elections are held across Britain, and they shouldn’t let the pandemic stop them.
This is the biggest set of elections outside a general election in nearly 50 years, with 48million people given the chance to have their say on what’s being dubbed ‘Super Thursday’.
Things will be a little bit different because of Covid, but a number of safety measures have been put in place in polling stations to ensure people can head out and vote.
The District Councils’ Network, which represents many of the returning officers responsible for organising today’s elections, is reminding people of the extra rules.
Social distancing measures similar to those in shops will be enforced in community centres, schools and other venues used for voting, and regular cleaning will be carried out during the day.
Most polling stations are expected to have screens separating staff and voters to minimise the spread of the virus.
Queues outside will also be socially distanced, with signs and floor markings in place to help people stick to the rules.
How to help elections run smoothly today
Don’t attend polling stations if you are self-isolating or have coronavirus symptoms – you can apply for an emergency proxy vote where someone votes on your behalf
Wear a face covering unless exempt
Bring your own pen or pencil if you can, but spares should be available
Use hand sanitiser to clean your hands when entering and exiting polling stations
Observe safe social distancing
Expect voting to take a little longer this year – stations may close briefly during the day for cleaning
Voters are asked to wear a face covering unless medically exempt and to use the hand sanitiser provided at polling stations upon entering and leaving.
Officials are also urging people to bring their own pens and pencils as an extra precaution, although most venues are expected to provide some spare clean pencils.
Some voters’ polling stations might look a bit different today, as museums and theatres are used.
This is because many of the usual sites are being used as vaccination centres or are too small to ensure social distancing.
If you’re self-isolating or experiencing coronavirus symptoms, don’t worry, you can still vote without having to leave the house.
Instead you can apply to designate someone to vote on your behalf by contacting your local authority.
Chairman of the District Councils’ Network’s Chief Executive Group, Bill Cullen, said: ‘This year’s local elections will be like no other, taking place during a pandemic.
‘Councils have pulled out all the stops to try and make them run as smoothly, safely and normally as possible.
‘Voters should be reassured that polling stations have been made Covid-safe and secure, and staff will be on hand to help people safely exercise their right to vote.
‘However, we need members of the public to play their part, by following a few, simple safety measures, which they will be familiar with from attending any indoor location.
‘Although we would ask people to be prepared that it might take a little longer than usual to cast their vote, and to bring their own pen or pencil if they can, though we will hold plenty of spares.’
Today’s election will see people vote for their national representatives in Scotland and Wales in Holyrood and the Senedd, respectively.
Votes will also be held for 143 English councils and 13 mayoralties – including for the Mayor of London.
One of the major battlegrounds for the Labour Party is the Hartlepool parliamentary by-election.
The seat in County Durham has been Labour since its creation in 1974 and was held onto by the party with a majority of 3,595 in 2019 even as other bricks in the so-called ‘red wall’ crumbled.
After a leaked poll showed Labour on course to lose badly in the Hartlepool race, opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer said he would take responsibility if results were disappointing.
Speaking on the campaign trail in Birmingham, he said: ‘When things go right, the leader takes the plaudits; when they don’t go right, the leader carries the can and takes responsibility.
‘That’s what I will do with these elections, as I will do in everything that the Labour party does.
‘I’m conscious, the whole party is conscious, that this is but a step on the road to the next general election.’
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