Covid-19 prompts 'take your own pencils' plea for Norfolk elections

File photo dated 06/05/10 of the polling station at Market Hall in Swadlincote, Derbyshire. PRESS AS

Norfolk voters are being urged to take their own pencils when they vote on Thursday, May 6. - Credit: PA

People voting in Norfolk elections next month are being urged to take their own pencils to the polling station - among measures to keep them safe during the Covid-19 pandemic.

People will go to the polls on Thursday, May 6, to elect 83 Norfolk county councillors, a councillor for 12 of the 39 divisions on Norwich City Council and for a new Norfolk police and crime commissioner.

There has been a drive to encourage more people to vote by post, but for those who do head to polling stations on May 6, they will see changes.

As well as being urged to take their own pencils to make marks on ballot sheets, people will be asked to wear masks, unless they have a medical exemption.

Polling booths will be further apart and social distancing markers in place.

People will need to sanitise their hands and polling station staff will be behind protective screens.

Stephen Evans will be the next chief executive of Norwich City Council. Pic: Norwich City Council.

Stephen Evans, returning officer at Norwich City Council. - Credit: Norwich City Council

Stephen Evans, returning officer for Norwich City Council, said: "Everything we are doing is to ensure people can employ their legitimate right to vote and can do it safely.

"We had a campaign to encourage people to vote by post, which 30,000 people have signed up to do, but people will be able to vote in polling stations on the day.

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"We are asking people to take their own pencils, if they can. And we are saying that everyone will need to wear a mask, unless medically exempt.

"We have done risk assessments of the polling stations and the booths will be spaced apart."

The counts themselves will also be different.

In Norwich, where more than 8,000 postal votes already returned are being sifted through, the need to create space between tellers means the usual 84-strong team to verify and count votes has been cut to 42.

Election count in Blackfriars' Hall in Norwich

Extra safety measures have been introduced for the election counts, such as this one in Norwich's Blackfriars' Hall. - Credit: Dan Grimmer

They are wearing masks, counting behind protective screens, using hand sanitiser and being regularly tested for Covid-19.

Public Health England said there is no need to quarantine postal votes, ballot papers or ballot boxes.

Maxine O’Mahony, returning officer for Breckland Council, said: “If you’re voting in person, please be aware things may take longer and queues are likely as we adapt our voting process to the COVID-19 restrictions.

"I’d encourage everyone to leave enough time to vote and make sure your voice is heard.”