THOUSANDS of Hertfordshire residents were set to swap the ballot box for the post box this year – with many areas of the county recording increases in applications for postal votes.

Residents don’t have to specify why they want to opt to vote by post, but the Covid-19 pandemic could have had an impact.

And across the county elections offices have dealt with more than 15,000 more applications for postal votes.

The area reporting both the largest increase in requests for postal votes and the highest number of residents registered for postal votes is North Herts.

Elections officers at the district council report a 40 per cent increase in applications for postal votes, compared to the last county council elections – with more than 7000 additional requests.

That takes the total of residents registered for postal votes in North Herts to  25,293 – which is significantly more than the 18,000 who registered for postal votes in the last county council elections, in 2017.

Officials at North Herts Council say they expected an increase in applications this year.

But they say they cannot be certain whether the rise is as a result of the pandemic.

“A rise in the number of postal votes received for the May 6 elections was expected this year due to the coronavirus pandemic,” said a spokesperson for North Herts Council.

“However, when postal votes are sent to voters they are not asked to specify why they are choosing to vote by post.

“This means we cannot confirm if the pandemic is definitely the reason for a rise in postal votes, or if there are other factors influencing their choice.”

Meanwhile  in Watford 13,233 people have registered for postal votes, which is 1,271 more more than for the borough elections in 2019 and 1,100 more than the county council elections in 2017.

In  Broxbourne the number of registered postal voters has  increased by just 431 since the borough elections in May 2019, to 12,833.

And in Stevenage election officials report that they ‘have not experienced any notable increase’ in requests for postal votes.

Those registering for a postal vote could still have chosen to take their ballot paper to a polling station. And not every registered postal voter will have voted.

Data from Broxbourne shows that of the 12,402 postal votes issued for the borough elections in May 2019 just 7,076 were returned.

And in Watford – for the same elections – just 7,527 of the 11,962 postal votes issued were returned.

Hertsmere registered 13,589 residents for postal votes for this year’s county council and Police and Crime Commissioner elections.

And that’s 1,811 more than the 11,778 recorded on the postal vote register on December 1 last year (2020).

Officials at Dacorum say 18,305 residents had requested postal votes for the county council elections – and 18,630 for the Police and Crime Commissioner.  But no comparison data with previous elections was available.

Elsewhere in the county St Albans has 21,724 residents who had applied for postal votes, this year.

That’s the second highest number of postal voters in  the county –  and 3346 more than the last local district elections in May 2019.

East Herts have 19,289 had postal voters registered for this year – equivalent to 17.07 per cent of the electorate.

That’s 2672 more than the last district election, in 2019, when 15 per cent of a slightly smaller electorate voted by post.

In Welwyn Hatfield 14,366 requests had been made for postal votes – including existing postal voters – which is said to be about 1,000 up on previous similar elections.

Earlier in the year the Electoral Commission predicted a ‘significant uplift’ in postal votes – with a survey suggesting that one-in-five voters (22 per cent) who normally vote in person would opt to vote by post.