Election 2016: Yorkshire voters face unprecedented polling booth choice

Cross on ballot paper Image copyright Thinkstock

Voters in parts of Yorkshire could be forgiven for leaving behind piles of nervously chewed pencil stubs at their polling stations on 5 May.

Research shows that stress levels peak at the point where the pencil is poised to put a cross in the box against the name of the chosen candidate.

This year's local council and police commissioner elections could see even more confusion with some Yorkshire voters being asked to make up to five choices.

Even the most seasoned voter can often have a crisis of confidence in those final seconds in the privacy of the voting booth.

I have to admit that even after more than four decades of taking part in elections a question still flashes through my mind every time the pencil touches the ballot paper:

* "Am I ticking the box or putting a cross in it?"

Surveys say I am not alone.

Other regular concerns that come up are:

** "Is the candidate representing the party I want?"

*** "Should the ballot paper be signed?"

Fresh start in South Yorkshire

These election worry wobbles are only to be expected. Secret ballots mean that voting has to be a solitary experience and phoning a friend is not really an option.

At most elections voters merely have to put a single cross against the name of just one candidate.

That is exactly the system being used by eight local councils across Yorkshire to elect a fresh batch of councillors this year.

However, two others will be asking a lot more of their electorate.

Voters in Sheffield and Rotherham will be handed multiple choice ballot papers where they are being asked to pencil in up to three crosses.

That is because for the first time these two South Yorkshire neighbouring local authorities are holding "all-out" polls where every seat is being elected.

Traditionally councils use the "thirds" system in which on three successive years a third of the council seats come up for election.

As each council ward is represented by three councillors it means that just one seat is being contested in each election year.

Sheffield and Rotherham's full elections means all seats are up for election in every ward so voters will be able to pick three from a long list of candidates on the ballot paper.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Voters in Rotherham are being given the chance to choose an entirely new council for the first time

In Sheffield recent radical changes to the boundaries of all its wards forced a switch to full elections.

Rotherham was ordered to contest every seat by the government in the hope of a fresh start for a council tainted by its failure to effectively tackle the scandal of the mass grooming and sexual assault of young girls by criminal gangs in the town.

This is in addition to entirely separate elections being held on the same day across England where every voter will be given the choice of putting two crosses on the ballot paper.

This is for the local Police and Crime Commissioner elections where the relatively unfamiliar "supplementary vote" system is being used.

A cross can be put against both a first and second choice candidate.

If no candidate takes more than 50% of the first choice votes then the second preferences come into play.

The top two go into a run-off where the "supplementary" votes are added to their totals for a winner to emerge.

No wonder the council officials who will be running polling stations on 5 May are preparing to spend a lot of time explaining how to vote.

Those anxious questions answered:

* A cross in the centre of the box against the name of the chosen candidate (or candidates) is the best option to ensure the ballot paper is not "spoilt". However, as long as the voter's intention is clear a tick or a single stroke of the pencil will probably be sufficient at the discretion of the returning officer.

** Official party name and an emblem are now printed alongside a candidate's name. Independents allowed a six-word description.

*** Writing on a ballot paper to identify the voter, send a message to the candidate or make a statement will "spoil" the vote.