THE polls are open in Dumbarton and the Vale, and across the country, and people have begun to cast their ballots in the Scottish Parliament election.

Many aspects of this year’s election have changed because of the pandemic – here we take a look at the picture in the Dumbarton constituency, which includes Helensburgh and Lomond and beyond, and what to expect on polling day and the days ahead.

Who is standing?

Seven candidates are standing in the Dumbarton constituency. In alphabetical order by surname, they are:

- Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour Party

- Maurice Corry, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party

- Andy Foxall, Scottish Liberal Democrats

- Toni Giugliano, Scottish National Party

- James Morrison, Independent

- Andrew Muir, Independent

- Jonathan Rainey, Scottish Liberal Democrats

There are also 16 parties, and three independent candidates, to choose from on the West Scotland regional list.

How are people voting?

Polling stations are open from 7am until 10pm today for people to vote in person. Your polling card will tell you where to vote – although you don't need to present your polling card, or any other form of ID, to be allowed to vote.

However, almost one in four – 23.8 per cent, to be exact, a Scottish record – have opted to vote by post because of the pandemic, and have already sent away their ballot papers.

Some people have also voted by proxy, i.e. appointed someone to cast a vote on their behalf.

I applied to vote by post but forgot to send my ballot paper. Is it too late to be counted?

No – if you asked for, and received, a ballot paper by post, you can still take it to your designated polling station and hand it in before polls close at 10pm.

I’m not feeling well, or I've been told to self-isolate: can I still vote today?

People can still request an emergency proxy vote up till 5pm on polling day. Contact the Dunbartonshire and Argyll and Bute Valuation Joint Board on 0800 980 0471.

What’s different at polling stations?

Certain safety measures will be in place in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19, including the following:

- A limit to the number of people allowed in a polling station at any given time to allow for social distancing.

- Face coverings - you will need this to enter the polling station and will be expected to wear it throughout.

- Washing your hands before and after voting. In many places, sanitiser will be available but it may be a good idea to carry your own.

- Some polling stations will supply clean pencils for voters - but why not bring your own?

- Wait times may increase due to queuing outside the polling station or while waiting for a booth to be sanitised before entering.

- Staff may be working behind safety screens.

As long as you're in the queue to vote before 10pm, you will still be able to vote even when polls officially close.

What happened last time?

At the last Holyrood election in May 2016, Labour's Jackie Baillie retained the seat – which she's held since the Scottish Parliament was established in 1999 – by just 109 votes from SNP candidate Gail Robertson, the closest constituency result in the whole of Scotland.

When will this year's votes be counted?

Again because of the pandemic, the counting of votes in the Dumbarton constituency won’t start until Friday.

The Dumbarton constituency count is one of two being overseen by West Dunbartonshire – the other is for the Clydebank and Milngavie seat.

Both counts are taking place at Clydebank Leisure Centre. The Clydebank and Milngavie count starts at 9am on Friday, and the Dumbarton count is expected to begin around lunchtime.

When will the result be declared?

The Dumbarton result isn’t expected before 4pm on Friday at the very earliest – though it’s likely to be a good few hours later than that before there’s a declaration.

If the vote turns out to be as close as it was in 2016, there may be a need for a recount – and that could push the announcement back even further.

We'll announce the result on our website and social media channels as soon as it's declared.

What about the overall picture?

We won’t know how many of the 129 Holyrood seats each party has won until Saturday – likely in the evening – or possibly even Sunday.

Some constituency counts aren’t taking place until Saturday – Glasgow and Edinburgh, for example, are both staggering their constituency counts over two days as an additional Covid safety measure.

Fifty-six of those 129 seats are allocated to “regional list” MSPs to make for a more proportional result overall – and those regional seats cannot be allocated until all of the constituency results in each region have been declared.

In the West Scotland region, which includes both the Dumbarton and Clydebank and Milngavie constituencies, six of the seven constituency counts will take place on Friday – but the seventh, Renfrewshire South, is on Saturday.