May elections: Do I need to bring my own pencil and how do I vote if I get COVID symptoms?

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·4-min read
EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - MAY 04: Staff at Edinburgh City Council move ballot boxes as they're taken for distribution to polling stations on May 4, 2021 in Edinburgh, Scotland. Political party leaders have been out campaigning in the final two day before voters go to the polls open on Thursday in the Scottish Parliamentary election. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Council staff in Edinburgh on Tuesday preparing for Thursday's Scottish parliamentary election. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Thursday's elections are the first set of major polls being held in the UK since the coronavirus pandemic hit in spring last year – meaning they will be unlike anything we have experienced before.

In polling stations across Britain, there will be a number of measures in place to guard against the spread of COVID-19. Here, Yahoo News UK explains some of the main ones.

Do I need to bring my own pen or pencil to vote?

No – but it is encouraged.

In a joint statement announcing COVID-secure polling station measures, the English, Scottish and Welsh governments said in March: "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."

Watch: Thursday's elections explained

What changes have been made to make voting COVID-secure?

As well as being encouraged to bring their own pen or pencil, voters will notice a number of differences in polling stations when compared to the last major poll: the 2019 general election.

However, many of these measures will be familiar to those we have seen in shops over the past year.

For example, voters will be greeted by hand sanitiser stations and separator screens, while distance markings "will be in use as appropriate". People will also need to observe social distancing and wear a face mask.

The three governments assured: "Anyone who feels comfortable going to a supermarket or a post office now can therefore feel confident attending a polling station in May."

Boris Johnson and then-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn outside their local polling stations on the day of the 2019 general election: the last major poll to have been held in the UK. (PA/Getty Images)
Boris Johnson and then-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn outside their local polling stations on the day of the 2019 general election: the last major poll to have been held in the UK. (PA/Getty Images)

What do I do if I get COVID symptoms on election day?

As usual, anyone who tests positive for coronavirus or suffers symptoms (a high temperature, a new and continuous cough or a loss or change in sense of taste or smell) should self-isolate.

As a result, new rules have been put in place to allow emergency proxy voting. Applications can be made up to 5pm on Thursday. Follow these links for application forms on the Electoral Commission website:

"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," the English, Scottish and Welsh governments said.

Will the election results be delayed because of COVID?

Because of the measures in place, it's a possibility.

The three governments said in their statement: "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."

Do I need to bring ID to vote?

No. People in England, Scotland and Wales do not need to bring identification or their poll card in order to vote.

The only thing voters need to provide is their name and address. Provided they are registered, they will then be given a ballot paper.

Where do I vote?

By now, people who are registered to vote – and have not chosen to do so by post or proxy – should have received a poll card in the post telling them which polling station to visit in person. This is the only station people will be allowed to vote at.

Anyone who hasn't received a poll card, but think they should have, can contact their local Electoral Registration Office.

As usual, polling stations will be open between 7am and 10pm on Thursday.

What is being decided?

There are six polls being held on Thursday:

  • Local council elections in England

  • Local and combined authority mayoral elections

  • Mayor of London and London Assembly elections

  • Police and Crime Commissioner elections in England and Wales

  • Welsh parliamentary election

  • Scottish parliamentary election

The local and London elections had been postponed at the beginning of the pandemic on 13 March last year, when COVID-19 infections had first started to accelerate.

Watch: How England is leaving lockdown