“On the matter of forthcoming local elections, in order to reassure the public, can the leader describe some of the measures being recommended to Councils in order to make the 50 plus polling stations Covid Secure in Welwyn Hatfield?”
The Leader asked Councillor F.Thomson (Executive Member, Governance, Public Health and Climate Change), to answer:-
“Like all councils in this same position, we are closely monitoring and will strictly follow all government guidance on the subject, as well as that of bodies such as the Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA). In addition, if additional requirements come forward from any such guidance, we will take steps to also put these into place. Further, all Returning Officers are working with and seeking guidance from the Director of Public Health and their safety officers.
In order to ensure that polling stations are safe places for voters, staff and other attendees, the following are the proposed arrangements the council will be putting into place, which will be similar to the measures the public have become used to over recent months in shops and banks, such as hand sanitiser, floor markings and face coverings.
For example, there will be:
• Tape for floor markings - In order to ensure that social distancing can be maintained at all times, floor markings inside and outside the polling station will help to manage queues, maintain distance between staff members, and between staff and voters, with a one way system around the polling station.
• Additional signage – Signs will be in place to remind voters of the need to follow public health guidelines such as social distancing, the wearing of face-coverings and only entering if symptom-free.
• Hand sanitiser - Hand sanitiser will be available on desks and at both the entrance and exit to the polling station, with voters encouraged to clean their hands on entry and exit.
• Face coverings – the use of face-coverings will be required for all individuals in a polling station (unless they are subject to an exemption) in line with government regulations. All staff will have a face covering. Whilst the majority of voters will likely be in possession of their own personal face covering, and will have been encouraged to bring it with them to vote, the station will have a stock of masks available to provide to those who have not brought their own face covering, and people will be advised to dispose of these face coverings themselves after they have left the polling station.
• Additional pencils - Whilst all voters should be encouraged to bring their own pen or pencil to the polling station, there will be a spare stock of single-use or ‘cleaned’ pencils available to provide for use where needed.
• Additional staff – where possible, additional staff will be employed to manage queues and to advise voters to follow public health guidance.
• Regular cleaning- There will be cleaning throughout the day of touchpoints, such as doors, polling booths and any writing implements, as recommended by public health authorities.”
Councillor Holloway in a supplementary question asked, in light of the tragic circumstances the UK finds itself in regards to the death toll of Covid, it is nearly 170 in Welwyn Hatfield. Do you agree that it is in fact responsible and not shameful, that we consider all avenues for safe and secure elections and would you agree that we should be able to have an on-going conversation on this subject without being accused of playing party politics?
Councillor Thomson answered that safety is paramount and we will regularly review the situation as will the Government. The Government has said they will be reviewing the situation and as further guidance comes forward then we will look to implement it. We are all keen to see a Covid safe election. I think most of us do not want to see the elections delayed any further but it is about providing the safest election as possible for everybody.