Yorkshire's local elections will go ahead but you'll need your own pencil

Local elections will go ahead in Yorkshire and across England in May - but voters will have to bring their own pencil to mark their ballot paper under new coronavirus safety rules.

Voters arriving at Thorner Parish Centre, near Leeds for the 2019 local elections. Pidc: James Hardisty

The Cabinet Office confirmed that "Covid-secure" polls would be held as planned, despite fears that the pandemic would lead to them being postponed again.

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Under new rules, voters will have to wear face coverings inside polling stations and will be asked to bring their own pen or pencil to mark their ballot.

And proxy voting rules will be changed so that people who have to self-isolate can request an emergency proxy vote up to 5pm on polling day.

The Cabinet Office said all nine priority cohorts - covering those aged 50 and over - are expected to have received coronavirus vaccines by May, meaning the Government can commit "with confidence" to the polls going ahead.

In Leeds, the council is encouraging voters to ease potential strain on polling stations by using a postal vote instead. For the General Election in December 2019, more than one in five of those people who voted did so by post.

Tom Riordan, Returning Officer and Chief Executive at Leeds City Council, said: “It is always important people exercise their democratic right, and an easy way to do so, in the safest way possible, is by registering for postal voting.

"If you do, you can opt to vote by post at future elections. This will be one of the most logistically challenging elections we’ve ever seen, and it is important we do everything we can to make them happen as smoothly as possible.”

A bumper set of elections are due to be held across Great Britain on "Super Thursday" - May 6 - including a number of contests postponed from 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In London, there will be elections for the mayor and assembly, which were originally due to take place last year.

And across the rest of England, voters will be choosing a mixture of councillors, local mayors, regional mayors and police commissioners.

The most high-profile election in Yorkshire will be for West Yorkshire's first every elected metro mayor, who will have powers similar to those enjoyed by Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester and Dan Jarvis in South Yorkshire.

Elections for three police and crime commissioners (PCCs) will be held in South Yorkshire, North Yorkshire and Humberside though not in West Yorkshire, where the PCCs' powers will be passed to a deputy mayor.

Full elections are currently to go ahead at North Yorkshire County Council, though these may be postponed if the number of councillors changes due to the planned local government reorganisation.

There will also be all-out elections in Rotherham and Doncaster, with a mayor elected in the latter borough. Authorities electing a third of their councillors include Leeds, Sheffield,

Wakefield, Barnsley, Calderdale, Bradford and Craven in North Yorkshire. Some of the elections were due to take place last year but didn't because of the pandemic.

Voters in Scotland and Wales will be choosing new parliaments - though a decision on whether these will go ahead will be made by their respective governments.

The scale of "Super Thursday" means that every voter in Great Britain will be able to take part in at least one type of poll, making it the biggest event of its kind outside a general election.

It will also be the first big electoral test for Sir Keir Starmer since he became Labour leader in April 2020, and for Prime Minister Boris Johnson since his general election victory in December 2019.

Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith said: "We are publishing a detailed plan to deliver May's elections in a safe and secure way.

"This is backed up by additional funding for councils, and practical changes to electoral laws to help both voters and candidates.

"Democracy should not be cancelled because of Covid. More than ever, local people need their say as we build back better, on issues ranging from local roads, to safer streets, to the level of council tax.

"As the Government rolls out the vaccine to the most vulnerable, we will be able to leave lockdown and open our country up safely again. We will work with political parties to ensure that these important elections are free and fair."

An Electoral Commission spokesman said: "It is an important democratic principle that elections should proceed as scheduled whenever possible.

"The electoral community has been preparing for Covid-safe elections since last March, when the 2020 elections were postponed. Together, we have taken steps to help everyone involved take part safely and confidently.

"Safety measures, such as face coverings, hand sanitiser and social distancing, will be in place to make polling stations safe places to vote and to work, and we are sharing information with voters so they understand the voting options available to them.

"We are supporting administrators in their complex and important work to prepare for and deliver the polls, and we will continue to update our guidance for parties, campaigners and electoral administrators as needed in order to reflect the latest public health advice and any legislative changes."