Election counts to be delayed in Hertfordshire to prevent spread of Covid-19

The delay is designed to reduce any possible transmission of the virus from the handling of ballot papers

Thursday, 22nd April 2021, 1:07 pm
Updated Thursday, 22nd April 2021, 1:08 pm

Election results WILL be delayed in Hertfordshire this year, in a bid to prevent any spread of Covid-19 – but some areas will delay longer than others.

Officials at Hertfordshire County Council have advised that ballot boxes should not be opened for 24 hours after the polls close, on May 6.

That delay is designed to reduce any possible transmission of the virus from the handling of ballot papers – or from any aerosol particles that could be generated from the tipping out of large quantities of ballot papers.

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And in nine of the district and boroughs, counting won’t go ahead until Saturday (May 8), as a result.

But officials in Broxbourne have opted to start counting on Friday.

Staff will start to verify votes for both the borough and county elections in Broxbourne as early as 10am on Friday – just 12 hours after the polls will have closed.

And they expect to announce borough results by 2pm – and county results by 3.30pm.

Officials say they have made the decision in response to advice from the Electoral Commission.

That advice suggests it is not necessary to quarantine papers – so long as other measures, such as hand-sanitising and face masks, are in place.

Elsewhere in Hertfordshire election officials have decided to wait.

Some are opting to count district/borough and county council votes on the Saturday.

And others are opting to count county council ballots on Saturday – but wait until Sunday to count the votes cast for would-be district and borough councillors.

Spreading the ‘counts’ over a number of days – and reducing the number of people that need to be present at any one time – will, it has been suggested, ease social-distancing at count venues.

And a range of other measures are to be implemented at each venue, that could include hand-sanitising stations, one-way systems and screens, as well as a requirement for face masks.

In Dacorum, officials say ballot boxes will be rigorously cleaned in advance of the counting.

And at the count there will be sanitizing stations and floor markings, indicating a one-way system.

Attendance will be restricted. And those agents and guests who do attend will sit at least two table widths from the counters.

Hertfordshire County Council say that the advice to quarantine ballot papers is part of a guide to running the elections safely, has been drawn up by a multi-agency group – which includes director of public health Jim McManus.

“The guide covers everything from risk assessment to counting and the emphasis is on ensuring people can vote and count safely,” said Mr McManus.

“The multi-agency group which wrote the guidance reviewed the evidence and took advice.

“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.”

The Electoral Commission has also provided advice to to Returning Officers. But they have not been recommending that ballot papers need to be quarantined.

A spokesperson for the Electoral Commission said: “We are supporting electoral administrators and Returning Officers in their complex and important work to prepare for and deliver the polls.

“This includes providing practical guidance on key aspects of the election process, such as polling station set up and the count.

“Polling station staff should ensure that everyone working with shared documents and paper follows public health guidelines, such as washing their hands regularly and avoiding touching their face, particularly after handling paper.”

All votes cast for the Hertfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner will be verified and counted on Monday (May 10).