Counting at the May elections will be delayed in England because ballot papers will need to be quarantined in case people have sneezed Covid onto them.
Where and how will they be securely stored? – Owl
By Christopher Hope, Chief Political Correspondent www.telegraph.co.uk
Thousands of council seats, along with mayoral elections and Police and Crime Commissioner elections will take place in England, as well as assembly elections in Scotland and Wales, on Thursday May 6.
New guidance, titled Covid Secure Elections 2021, from Lawyers in Local Government – a group which represents council solicitors – “recommends that Ballot papers will be quarantined for 24 hrs prior to being handled by staff”.
This will mean that the count will start on Saturday May 8, not Friday May 7.
The group said this was “in the pursuance of limiting risk, and making sure the process is as safe as possible given many people used to count are over 50”. The last over-50s are due to be vaccinated just a week before election day.
One of the concerns is that tipping out the ballot papers could allow germs left there by voters to infect people counting the papers.
Jim McManus, Hertfordshire County Council’s director of public health who helped drew up the guidance, told the Telegraph added: “From our perspective, we also looked at what other elections did and will continue to review the evidence.
“Our continued question is whether tipping out large quantities of ballot papers from boxes can generate aerosols.”
However, Association of Electoral Administrators which represents council returning officers played down concerns about the safety of polling cards which are mailed out to voters ,saying “there is no need to quarantine ballot papers before commencing the verification or count process” as long as usual Covid safety protocols are observed.
It also emerged as many as one in four council workers might not turn up to help with the count. Somewhere in the region of 100,000 are needed to staff polling stations on May 6.
Around 40,000 polling stations will be open to voters from 7am to 10pm on the day, with two or more staff in each.
Some councils are struggling and looking to fill up to 100 vacancies, while others have just a handful of posts outstanding.
The Telegraph has learned that 2,000 civil servants and volunteers from the National Citizen Service have now been drafted in to help deal with the shortfall.
Election teams are also looking to recruit reserve polling station staff, to avoid any last-minute issues should anyone need to self-isolate.
Polling expert Lord Hayward said the final result of the elections might not be available for up to five days after election day this year.
A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “The Government is providing a range of support to ensure these polls are COVID-secure and effective.”