Vote by post plea as officers grapple with elections amid Covid

Norfolk election counts are under way. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Local elections are due to go ahead in May despite the coronavirus pandemic - Credit: Matthew Usher

People are being urged to sign up for postal votes for elections in Norfolk this May - with council bosses grappling with how to make polling stations Covid safe.

Despite the pandemic, elections are due to go ahead, with voting for Norfolk County Council, the police and crime commissioner post and some district councils due on May 6.

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith, whose role as minister of state for the constitution and devolution includes elections, told the House of Commons a "high bar" would need to be crossed for the government to delay them.

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith. Picture: Neil Didsbury

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith. - Credit: Archant

She said that legislation would be needed to change the May 6 date.

And that means councils are having to consider how to make polling stations Covid-safe, with the government giving £70m.

It is likely to mean polling stations have to operate a 'traffic light' system, as run at some supermarkets, to limit how many people can be in them at one time.

And people could also be required to take their own pencils to mark their ballot sheets, with everyone needing to wear a mask and divider screens in place.

Council officers tasked with organising the elections said the more people who register for postal votes, the better.

Trevor Holden has urged anyone in need not to hesitate, saying: Please call and we will help you. Ph

Trevor Holden, managing director of Broadland and South Norfolk councils - Credit: Archant

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Trevor Holden, managing director of Broadland and South Norfolk councils, is the returning officer for the police and crime commissioner elections.

He said: "There's all sorts of factors which mean people might not go out to vote.

"But we want to get the message across that we are going to have safe environments in polling stations.

"However, we know that turnout on the day is going to depend on how people feel about going to them.

"So, we are encouraging people to register now for postal votes.

"We'd urge people not to wait. If people go on to their local council's website or www.gov.uk they can register for a postal vote."

The deadline for registering is April 20, but Mr Holden said: "The earlier we can get people to do that, the easier for the system to cope with. It is the very best way for people to vote."

Mr Holden said it was not yet clear just what restrictions will be in place come May 6, but that voting would be very different this year.

He said: "They will need to be Covid compliant. We are going to have to inspect every premises to make sure that is possible.

"Depending on the size of the venue, then we could have to have people outside to manage entry, in the same way supermarkets do."

Ballot papers will need to be quarantined before being counted.

Mr Holden said that meant declaration will be "significantly slower" than normal.

South Norfolk Council leader John Fuller, chairman of the District Councils Network, said a delay to the elections would have been preferable.

South Norfolk Council leader John Fuller. Picture: ROSE SAPEY

John Fuller, leader of South Norfolk Council. - Credit: Rose Sapey

Steve Morphew, leader of the opposition Labour group at Norfolk County Council, said: "Much as I want elections, going ahead in May is bonkers

"It's not just about safely putting your cross on a ballot paper. Counts involve many people counting and overseeing the process over many hours.

"They could turn into superspreader events. There is far more to running an election than voting.

Steve Morphew, Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Steve Morphew, Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018

"Many people won't have had a jab by the time the campaign starts, and if I'm going to turn up on the doorstep of somebody I haven't spoken to in the past year I want a conversation about more than how they are going to vote.

"Delaying to September would be far safer and would give the chance for a proper election campaign during months when the weather is better and people are more engaged."

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