UK 2021 local elections

UK 2021 local elections will be ‘far from normal’ – action needed on anticipated voter delays

  • Voters visiting polling stations in the 2021 local elections face significant delays because of COVID-19 safety measures, unless planning changes are made by authorities
  • Election managers calculate it could take up to three minutes to explain COVID-19 safety protocols to each voter at polling stations, meaning only 20 people could vote in an hour
  • Warrington-based ‘Democracy Counts Limited’ has released a free software tool to help election officials plan in-person voting in current pandemic environment

Warrington-based election software specialists, Democracy Counts Limited, are advising that the UK’s 6th May, 2021 local elections could face significant delays unless changes are made in the way that voter queuing and ‘flow’ through polling stations is managed.

The elections, which have already been postponed for 12 months following Government medical advice on COVID-19, will be one of the first times that UK voters have an opportunity to cast their votes in person since pandemic restrictions began.

However, COVID-19 vaccine plans notwithstanding, some local authorities are already reporting difficulties finding suitable polling station venues amid safety concerns over queuing, social-distancing and appropriate cleaning of exposed surfaces, making it clear that careful forward-thinking will be required to successfully facilitate voting.

Democracy Counts’ sales and marketing director, Grant Hazell, explains:

“We’ve already witnessed the challenges a COVID-19 voting environment can present following the recent US elections – long queues, hours of waiting, additional pressures on election officers, increased technical issues and an unprecedented growth in demand for absent votes.

“Are people going to want to stand in line? Will there be a mass surge of requests for postal ballots? Will this lead to delays in the delivery of postal votes to those applying nearer the deadlines? There are so many unknowns at the moment, but it is clear that voting in 2021 will be far from normal.

“The Electoral Commission – the independent body overseeing elections and regulating political finance in the UK – is already encouraging efforts to help voters stay safe at polling stations, including the implementation of many of the measures already seen in shops and banks over recent months – hand-sanitiser, floor markings and face masks, as well as highlighting the option to apply to vote by post or proxy.”

However, calculations by election managers show that it could take up to three minutes to process each voter after explaining Covid-19 safety protocols to them, checking their registration details and then allowing the person to cast their vote. This means only 20 people could vote in an hour at some polling stations – a major problem for locations where normally up to 1,500 electors are allocated to progress through the doors.

Hazell continues: “In anticipation of these obstacles Democracy Counts Limited has developed a free, easy-to-use planning tool for election officials to work towards seamless, in-person voting in the current pandemic environment.

“The software takes into account a polling station’s size, layout, entrances and exits, and anticipates peak times and likely numbers to help election managers prepare staffing-requirements and venue layouts to maximise safe and efficient voting.

“We’re also working with a number of local councils to place QR codes on polling cards, which will provide any voter owning a smartphone with advance information on in-person safety plans and procedures at polling stations – all of which will speed-up the election process on the day.

“This preparation and more will be vital in ensuring that one of the most unusual voting periods in UK history is conducted safely and successfully, and that anyone who wants to vote will be able to do so without concern or restriction.”

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