POLLING day is approaching in Scotland in arguably the most important Scottish Parliament election since the introduction of devolution.

There are now 76 days until May 6, however a significant proportion of ballots will be cast weeks before that when postal votes are issued in mid-April. It is estimated that up to 40% of all ballots cast will be postal votes. The 2021 Holyrood election will see the record use of postal votes with up to 2.7 million people expected to choose our MSPs for the next four years that way.

Research by the Electoral Commission has shown that 53% of voters would use a normal polling station with appropriate hygiene measures in place while 38% said they would prefer to vote by post and 1% by proxy.

Among voters who usually cast their vote at a polling station, 61% said they would take up a postal ballot if they were encouraged to do so. According to the Electoral Commission, “around a quarter (27%) of people said that they would definitely apply for a postal vote if they were encouraged to do so for the Scottish Parliament election, while 24% said that they would probably apply for a postal vote”.

Unsurprisingly, political parties are encouraging voters to apply. With the uncertainty over when lockdown measures will be eased, postal vote take-up is an added safety dimension in the fight against the pandemic.

READ MORE: SNP issue guidance on postal voting in time for May elections

SNP MSPs and Holyrood candidates have already been actively promoting postal vote registration in Scotland. In Wales, where there are Senedd elections, Plaid Cymru is promoting postal vote take-up while in England campaigners in local, metropolitan and mayoral elections are doing the same. In London, most residents would prefer the mayoral election to be entirely carried out by postal vote. According to a recent survey, 70% of voters across London would feel safer with a postal vote on May 6, while only around one-third would feel safe voting in person.

Postal voting was a significant factor in the US presidential election, where a massive sign-up drive by Democrats, especially among lower-income groups and minority communities helped Joe Biden win the White House.

As we know, Donald Trump couldn’t accept defeat and made unsubstantiated and unfounded claims of postal vote fraud and that the elections were “rigged”. Despite precious little evidence of past postal vote fraud in the United States, he got his excuses in early before losing and sought to overturn the result in the courts and then by inciting insurrection.

Here, we are fortunate that the administration of our elections is not a contested or party political issue.

There is an extremely high degree of trust in our electoral processes and political parties are allowed to verify their fairness, including postal vote opening and the count process. In recent years the rise in the take-up of postal votes has been exponential, quadrupling from 4% to 15% between 2001 and 2010. In Scotland this jumped to 17.6% in 2015 while in 2016, the most recent Scottish Parliament election, 20.8% of votes actually cast were postal votes.

Decisions are already being made about how to best manage the democratic process during the pandemic. Scotland joins more than 100 other countries in holding a major electoral event, up to and including national referendums and presidential elections. Parties are still able to communicate with the electorate, but there will not be canvassing, leaders tours and constituency events for the public in the same way as before.

READ MORE: Holyrood election: Result could take days as overnight counting is ruled out

Instead there will be a lot more direct mail and communications delivered in a Covid-safe manner by the Royal Mail as well as online campaigning.

Polling day will see heightened precautions when voters come to cast their ballots. Social distancing, one-way systems and polling station staff sitting behind plastic screens while wearing appropriate PPE will be a common sight. It is now increasingly clear that the count will not take place overnight after the polling stations close. Instead, the count will start the next day, as is already the case for local government.

In his report on holding the Scottish Parliament elections during the pandemic Dr Alister Clark of Newcastle University has said: “With contingency legislation in place, and some experience of running pandemic by-elections, Scotland is looking well prepared for its crucially important 2021 parliamentary elections.”

It is now less than 11 weeks until the Scottish Parliament election and a record number of people say they want to use a postal vote. It’s straightforward, safe and it works.

If you haven’t yet applied for a postal vote, or have not yet registered, you still have plenty time. Go online to do both. It’s super simple. Let’s do everything we can to promote participation in this all important Holyrood election. Tell your family and friends to register and apply for a postal vote.