When will the election results be counted in Herts?
Deborah Price, Local Democracy Reporter
- Credit: Herts county council
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 Herts 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.
As a result, in nine of the districts and boroughs, counting will not go ahead until Saturday, May 8 as a result, while officials in Broxbourne have opted to start counting on Friday - just 12 hours after the polls have closed.
Elsewhere in Herts, election officials have decided to wait. Some are opting to count all votes on the Saturday for both district/borough and county, while others are opting to count county council votes on the Saturday but wait until Sunday for district and borough.
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Spreading the counts over a number of days, and reducing the number of people who need to be present at any one time, should ease social distancing at council venues.
A range of other measures are to be implemented at each venue, including hand-sanitising stations, one-way systems and screens, as well as a requirement for face masks.
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In Stevenage, counting of ballots for both district and county council votes will begin on Saturday.
For North Herts, county council ballots will be counted on Saturday and for district on Sunday. Measures planned to ensure safety including the wearing of face masks, as well as the use of hand sanitiser, screens and dividers between counters.
Those allowed to attend the North Herts counts will be lower than in previous years, in order to maintain social distancing.
In St Albans, votes for the 10 county council seats will be counted on Saturday, and for district council on Sunday.
The counts are being staffed to ensure social distancing in the counting hall, where there will be fewer counters. In addition, face masks will be required and hand sanitiser will be available, with one-way systems and COVID marshals at polling stations.
Meanwhile Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council says a number of safety measures will be in place to ensure that all aspects of the elections can run in a COVID-safe environment.
The council says that the decision to count the ballots on Saturday reflects the health advice to quarantine the ballot papers and to ensure enough staff were available for the count.
The advice from Herts County Council to quarantine ballot papers has been drawn up by a multi-agency group, which includes the county council's director of public health, Jim McManus.
Mr McManus said: "The guide covers everything from risk assessment to counting and the emphasis is on ensuring people can vote and count safely.
“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 so long as other measures, such as hand-sanitising and face masks, are in place.
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.