Safe and secure elections are fundamental to our democracy. Now, more than ever, voters have the right to be heard, and on 6 May 2021 elections are scheduled to take place in England, Scotland and Wales.
We have seen elections delivered successfully across the globe despite the coronavirus pandemic. 10 council by-elections have taken place in Scotland and national elections have gone ahead in many countries including Ireland, France, Italy, Portugal, Israel, South Korea and the United States. Further elections are due to be held around the world between March and May.
In the UK, the scheduled elections in May include a wide range of polls, including council, mayoral, London Assembly and Police and Crime Commissioner elections and local referendums in England, the Scottish Parliament election in Scotland, and the Senedd election, postponed local government by-elections and Police and Crime Commissioner elections in Wales. Voters will soon begin to receive their polling cards for these elections and we would like to reassure them of the extensive preparations that are being made to allow these polls to take place in a way that minimises the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
The May 2021 polls will take place in a similar way to previous polls but there will be differences, as there have been in many areas of life during the coronavirus pandemic. The UK government, Scottish Government and Welsh Government are working together across parties and with electoral partners and public health bodies to put in place a set of measures to ensure these polls are COVID-secure and voters can feel confident casting their vote.
There are three ways to vote in the UK in May: in person at a polling station; by postal vote; or by appointing a proxy to vote on a voter’s behalf.
Voters attending polling stations can expect to see many of the protective measures with which they are already now familiar - hand sanitiser will be available, and screens, distance markings and protective barriers will be in use as appropriate. Social distancing will be in place both inside and outside polling stations and all voters and staff should wear a face covering. Voters will be encouraged to bring their own pen or pencil to mark their ballot papers, although fresh clean pencils will still be available for all.
Anyone who feels comfortable going to a supermarket or a post office now can therefore feel confident attending a polling station in May. However, we understand that not everyone will wish or be able to vote in person.
Therefore, anyone who is shielding, or anyone who would for any reason prefer not to attend a polling station, can apply for a postal or proxy vote in advance of the elections.
Details on how to apply for a postal or proxy vote can be found on the Electoral Commission website and will also be provided on poll cards. The deadline for applications does vary across the UK, and we therefore encourage all voters wishing to use one of these options to apply early.
We also remain absolutely clear that anyone who has tested positive for coronavirus, or who is displaying symptoms, should self-isolate. The UK government, Scottish Government and Welsh Government have each put in place new rules to allow for emergency proxy voting leading up to polling day and until 5pm on the day itself. This will mean that voters who are self-isolating due to coronavirus exposure, testing or symptoms can still have their say in these elections without having to leave their home.
Campaigning is a further aspect of these elections where there will be differences from previous years. Campaigning is important to ensure voters are well informed before going to the polls, and candidates must be able to communicate with the electorate. However, this must be balanced with protecting public health. Campaigning activity, such as leafleting, will commence across the UK as COVID restrictions ease; the pace of this will vary between nations and campaigners in each nation will need to follow the guidance and regulations made by the relevant Government.
We must also appreciate that for these polls, due to the additional measures in place to make the counts COVID-secure, it may be the case that the counting of votes and announcement of results will take longer than previous years. However, the announcement of results will be made as soon as is practicable after the close of the polls.
The United Kingdom is world-renowned for running elections of the highest standards in which voters can have full confidence, delivered in each area by the statutorily independent Returning Officer. We have the utmost confidence in the ability of the Returning Officers to run these polls in a way that meets the highest standards of both public safety and democratic integrity.
We hope that every elector will take the opportunity to have their say in May’s elections with the confidence that the right precautions are in place.
Chloe Smith MP, Minister of State for the Constitution and Devolution
Graeme Dey MSP Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans
Julie James MS, Minister for Housing and Local Government