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Herts County Council orders quarantine of ballot papers in May 6 election

Ballot papers are to be quarantined for 24 hours after Thursday May 6's county council election in Hertfordshire to help curb the spread of coronavirus.

The safety measure will be regularly reviewed, but the county council's director of public health, Professor Jim McManus, expects the counting of votes to be delayed by a day as a result – which means it is not likely to take place before the night of Friday May 7 at the earliest.

He said there was a range of scientific evidence indicating the Covid-19 virus could survive on paper for as little as five minutes or as much as five days and he was advocating a consensus approach.

Herts director of public health Jim McManus, left, and Cllr Tim Hutchings, Herts County Council executive member for public health and protection (45042372)
Herts director of public health Jim McManus, left, and Cllr Tim Hutchings, Herts County Council executive member for public health and protection (45042372)

He said: "We are taking a precautionary approach to keep people safe."

Hertfordshire is leading the way in planning the quarantine and other local authorities have now adopted the same proposal.

A raft of other measures is being introduced to ensure the poll does not spread the virus.

Ballot box (45042400)
Ballot box (45042400)

Cllr Tim Hutchings, HCC's cabinet member for public health and prevention, said: "I hope everyone will take a sensible approach to the election."

The member for Hoddesdon North has been guiding Hertfordshire's response to the pandemic but is not standing again. However, he was confident that whatever the result of the election, his replacement would "pick up a brief that is well established and well respected".

The council has come up with a 44-page guide, dedicated an officer to the plans and is liaising with district councils to safeguard polling station and count staff, voters and candidates.

Electors will be able to apply for postal or proxy votes, and those who develop Covid-19 symptoms and cannot vote in person will be able to apply for an emergency vote even on polling day.

READ ALSO Bishop's Stortford Conservatives deselect Colin Woodward in West division

During the campaign, candidates are urged to maintain social distancing while canvassing and to use online or phone contact for electioneering instead.

Leaflets should be delivered by post rather than in person, and parties are being advised not to take members of the public to polling stations, where the traditional tellers, who tally the votes of electors as they leave, are banned.

The poll will determine the membership of all 78 seats on Herts County Council, which for two-thirds of its 48-year history – including the last 20 years – has been controlled by the Conservatives. Bishop’s Stortford is split up into West, East and Rural divisions and is represented at County Hall in Hertford by three Tories.

Voters are also being asked to elect the police and crime commissioner for Hertfordshire for the next three years after last year’s vote was postponed. Current Conservative incumbent David Lloyd, Liberal Democrat Sam North and Labour’s Philip Ross are the candidates.

The deadline to apply for a postal vote for the May 6 elections is 5pm on April 20. Visit the Electoral Commission website.

You need to be registered to vote in order to have a say at the elections. Register online at www.eastherts.gov.uk/elections-voting/how-where-vote by midnight on April 19.

READ ALSO Apply for a postal or proxy vote for May's Herts County Council elections

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