United Kingdom

Election 2021: Masked electorate must use hand sanitiser before voting in polling booths

Voters were encouraged to bring their own pen or pencil to the polling booth today to help stop the spread of coronavirus as Britons across the country took part in local elections 'like no other'.

Britons are being urged to bring their own pen or pencil 'if they can' to help make polling stations Covid-secure, but the District Councils Network said booths will hold 'plenty of spares' to use if they do not bring one. 

One-way systems have been introduced in some polling stations, with election officials sat behind plastic screens - and people arriving to vote are being asked to use hand sanitiser and to wear a face covering while indoors. 

Some polling stations may close for brief periods during the day for cleaning as a bumper crop of elections takes place in every part of Great Britain after many were postponed from last May because of Covid-19. 

Voters are also being asked to be prepared to wait longer than usual and maintain social distancing both inside and outside the booths, with councils said to have 'pulled out all the stops' to ensure the process is safe.

Polling stations opened at 7am today for local council elections in England, the London mayoral election and the Hartlepool parliamentary by-election, although more voters are expected to have cast postal ballots this year.

A man wearing a face mask leaves the polling station at St Albans Church in South London after voting this morning

Hand sanitiser at the local election polling station at the White Horse Inn in Priors Dean, Hampshire, pictured this morning

People wait in a socially-distanced line to cast their vote in the Hartlepool by-election at a polling station this morning

A man wearing a protective face mask enters a polling station in London today as local elections are held across Britain

Signs at the White Horse Inn in Priors Dean, Hampshire, ask people to wear face coverings as they go to vote in the elections

Results across England are expected to filter through over several days as coronavirus restrictions slow the counting process for the elections amid logistical difficulties for electoral administrators. 

Votes in Hartlepool will be counted overnight, with a result expected overnight tonight, while Holyrood votes will be counted over the next two days. In Wales, the make-up of the Senedd should become clear tomorrow.

What is different about polling stations this year? 

It could be Sunday night before all the results in England's local contests are known, while the final results in Police and Crime Commissioner elections may not come until Monday night. 

Bill Cullen, chairman of the District Councils Network, 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.'

Craig Westwood from the Electoral Commission said that voting would feel 'reassuringly different and reassuringly familiar', and people should be patient booth at the booths and while waiting for the count.

People wait in line to cast their vote in the Hartlepool by-election at a polling station in the town this morning

Sisters from Carmelite Monastery in Dysart leave after casting their vote at Dysart Community Hall in Scotland today

The polling station at the White Horse Inn in Priors Dean, Hampshire, today - also known by locals as the 'Pub with no name'

Snowy conditions at a Scottish Parliamentary election polling station in the village of Farr, near Inverness, this morning

Dogs outside the polling station in Dulwich, South East London, this morning as the local and mayoral elections take place

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'It's Super Thursday, we have two years' worth of elections happening today. There are a lot of elections, a lot of democracy.

'It will take time. The most important thing is that people are kept safe. This is just a call for patience for everyone to wait for the results.'

Mr Westwood also told the Guardian: 'It's as much about confidence for the staff in the polling station and for voters, and that's where the issue of the pen or pencil comes in.

'If people can bring their own, it's just one less piece of transmission to limit the risk and help people feel confident.'

A woman and her dog outside a polling station in the Bank View Cafe in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, this morning

Signs are displayed today outside a polling station at Hollinsclough Methodist Church and Hall in Buxton, Derbyshire

People enter a polling station in Romford, Essex, to cast their vote today as local elections take place across the UK

A Chelsea Pensioner drives his mobility scooter past a sign for a polling station after voting in London this morning

A woman wearing a face mask leaves the polling station at St Albans Church in South London after voting today

Unusual sights including snow in the Highlands, a group of nuns travelling to the polls in Dysart, Scotland, and several pictures of dogs at polling stations captured the interest of voters on election day.    

In Dulwich Village, South East London, a group of nine dogs were spotted outside a polling station in a large show of support for the #DogsInPollingStations trend. Four-month-old puppy Bertie joined in for the first time.

Mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan took his dog Luna to his London polling station, where his wife cast her vote in the local and London mayoral elections. Mr Khan had already voted by post.

A group of five Sisters from the Carmelite Monastery in Dysart, Fife, cast their vote in the Scottish Parliamentary election. Voting also took place at a very colourful polling station in the Bank View Cafe in Sheffield.  

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