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The coronavirus pandemic has had significant implications for elections in both 2020 and 2021. Local elections due in England in May 2020 were postponed. Early in 2021 there was speculation that the elections might be delayed again.

In February 2021 the UK government confirmed that the 2021 scheduled polls in England and those delayed from 2020 would go ahead on 6 May 2021. It also published a delivery plan to assist electoral administrators plan for those polls.

The Scottish and Welsh governments also stated their intentions that the devolved elections, for the Scottish Parliament and Senedd Cymru, scheduled for May 2021, should go ahead.

This briefing explains how the elections due in 2020 were postponed. It also examines the impact of the pandemic on preparations for the 2021 English local elections and devolved elections, including the measures put in place in England, Scotland and Wales, to allow the elections to go ahead.

These measures include encouraging voters to apply early for postal and proxy votes. The deadline to apply for a postal vote for the elections in England and Wales is 5pm on Tuesday 20 April. The deadline in Scotland has been brought forward (see section 2.2) to 5pm on Tuesday 6 April.

The deadline to apply for a proxy vote is 5pm on Tuesday 27 April in all three countries. Voters must already be registered to vote. The deadline to register to vote for elections on 6 May is 23:59 on 19 April 2021.

Going to a polling station and working on the election, either in a polling stations, count venues or in related roles are legitimate reasons to leave your home if coronavirus restrictions are in place. Voters should wear a face covering in polling stations.

If a voter is ill or self-isolating as a result of coronavirus then they can make use of an emergency proxy in order to vote. Rules for emergency proxies have been temporarily altered. Normally they are only granted if you fall ill or are required to go away for work at short notice and applications must have supporting evidence from an employer or health professional. For the elections in May voters who fall ill because of Covid, or a required to self-isolate because coronavirus, will be able to apply for an emergency proxy without needing to provide additional evidence. Emergency proxy applications can be made up to 5pm on polling day.

Candidates will need fewer signatures in support of nomination papers. This is aimed at reducing the amount of contact required between people. However, nomination papers still need to be delivered in person to the relevant returning officer within the specified times set out in law.

Campaigners will also need to take note of the separate guidance in England, Scotland and Wales on the need to maintain social distancing and what is allowed during campaigning:

Government’s approach to elections and referendums during COVID-19 (applies to England)

Coronavirus (COVID-19): Scottish Parliament Election 2021 – campaign activity

Guidance to persons undertaking election campaigning activities in Wales during the Coronavirus pandemic

The combination of so many polls and the different voting systems in place mean that these will be some of the most complex polls ever held, particularly in England.

The local elections delayed from 6 May 2020 are:

  • PCC elections in England and Wales for/in 39 police force areas (it was originally 40 but the West Yorkshire PCC powers will be transferred to the elected mayor for West Yorkshire). In Essex, North Yorkshire, Northamptonshire and Staffordshire the role of PCC also now includes responsibility for fire and rescue services;
  • Local elections for 115 principal councils (34 metropolitan boroughs, 59 district and 22 unitary authority council areas) in England.
  • Greater London Authority (GLA) elections for London mayor and all seats on the London Assembly;
  • Metro-mayoral elections in Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, Tees Valley and West Midlands;
  • Single-authority mayoral elections in Bristol, Liverpool, and Salford.
  • Parish council elections in some areas.

Some local referendums and council by-elections were also scheduled to take place on the same day.

The elections that are already scheduled for May 2021 are:

  • Elections for all seats in the Scottish Parliament and Senedd Cymru;
  • Whole county council elections in 21 two-tier counties and six unitary counties in England;
  • Whole council elections in Doncaster and the Isles of Scilly;
  • Three combined authority mayors (West of England, West Yorkshire, and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough) and two single authority mayors (Doncaster and North Tyneside);
  • Parish council elections in some parts of England; and

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