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Voting procedures

Check if you can register to vote

You can register to vote on GOV.UK - you'll need your National Insurance number, if you have one. You can't vote in any elections if you haven't registered first.

To register to vote, you need to:

  • be aged 17 or over in England and Wales
  • be aged 15 or over (and in some cases 14 years old) in Scotland
  • be a British citizen, or either a qualifying Commonwealth or EU citizen resident in the UK
  • live in the constituency you want to vote in, unless you're a British citizen living abroad

If you live in England and Wales, you can't vote until you're 18.

If you live in Scotland, you can vote in local and Scottish Parliament elections when you're 16 and the UK and European Parliament elections when you're 18.

You can't register to vote if:

  • you're a sentenced prisoner - get specialist advice if this applies to you
  • you're in a psychiatric hospital because of criminal activity
  • you've been convicted of corrupt or illegal electoral practices
  • you're a peer of the realm and a member of the House of Lords (only for British parliamentary elections)
  • you've got a severe mental illness and can't understand the voting procedure

You'll have to use a different form to register to vote if you're:

  • a British citizen who lives abroad
  • someone who lives in more than one constituency
  • someone without a fixed address, eg you're homeless or a traveller
  • a patient in a psychiatric hospital who isn't there because of criminal activity
  • remanded in custody
  • someone who needs to register anonymously

If you're a British Citizen who lives abroad

You can register as an 'overseas voter' if you've lived in and registered to vote in the UK in the last 15 years. You'll be added to the electoral register in the last UK constituency you lived in. You'll be able to vote in any elections except local elections and elections for the National Assembly for Wales and Scottish Parliament.

You can download the overseas voter registration form and get more information from the Electoral Commission. It's important to remember to register every year if you want to be an overseas voter.

If you live in more than one constituency

Your right to be included on the register and vote in a particular constituency depends on your circumstances. You'll need to speak to the electoral registration officer if this applies to you.

You can register to vote if you live in more than one constituency. For example, if you are a student you can be registered at your parent's address and wherever you live during term-time if it's not with your parents.

The electoral registration officer might stop you registering in two places in some circumstances. For example, if you have a holiday home but spend only a few days there each year, you might not be counted as living there. If you spend most weekends there, they might let you register there. If you think should be allowed to register, you can find out how to complain from the Electoral Commision.

It's really important to remember that it's illegal to vote twice in the same election, but you can vote in elections for each local council you're registered in. If you're not in the constituency where you want to vote on polling day and want to apply for a proxy vote, you must satisfy the registration officer that you are eligible. If a proxy vote is refused, there is a right of appeal in the county court (sheriff court in Scotland). You can vote by post without having to meet any specific criteria.

If you haven't got a fixed address

You can still vote if you don't have a fixed address by making a 'declaration of local connection'. If you're homeless, you should put the address of somewhere you spend most of your time, or the address of somewhere near there on the form. This might be a cafe or drop-in centre. If you're a traveller and you aren't on a settled site you might also be able to fill in a declaration.

You can make a declaration of local connection by filling out the Register to vote (no fixed address) form on GOV.UK. There are 2 forms - one for people in England and Wales and one for people in Scotland. You need to send the completed form to your local electoral registration office - you can look up where this is on GOV.UK. Your declaration will be valid for 12 months unless it's cancelled or replaced with a new declaration.

Make sure that your declaration includes:

  • your name
  • an address for post to be sent to, or an agreement to collect post from the electoral registration office
  • the date of the declaration
  • the voter category that applies to you and a statement that you fall into one of the categories that are allowed to make a declaration
  • a statement that you meet the nationality requirements
  • confirmation that you are 18 years old (14 years or older in Scotland), or your date of birth if you aren't

Your declaration won't be accepted if you enter more than one address, or send more than one declaration that has the same date and different addresses on it. You can cancel a declaration at any time.

If you're a patient in a psychiatric hospital

You can't vote if you're in a psychiatric hospital because of criminal activity.

If you're a short-term patient in a psychiatric hospital, you can register to vote if you fill in the usual electoral registration form on GOV.UK. You should give your usual address outside the hospital.

Contact your nearest Citizens Advice if you're a short-term patient with no address outside the hospital and you're worried you might not be added to the electoral register.

If you're a long-term patient in a psychiatric hospital when a new electoral register is being made, you're entitled to register to vote. You can register at your address outside the hospital. You can also register at the hospital address if the registration officer thinks that you've been, or will be, in the hospital for a long enough amount of time for it to be accepted as your home address.

If you don't want to use your home address or the hospital's address, you can make a declaration of local connection by filling out the Register to vote (no fixed address) form on GOV.UK. There are 2 forms - one for people in England and Wales and one for people in Scotland. You need to send the completed form to your local electoral registration office - you can look up where this is on GOV.UK. The declaration must give both the name of the psychiatric hospital and the address where you'd be living if you weren't in the hospital. If you can't give your most recent home address, you should give an address in the UK where you've lived at any time.

If you're detained under the Mental Health Act 1983 (in Scotland, the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003), you can't vote in person but have to vote by post instead.

If you're remanded in custody

If you're a prisoner, you can only vote if you're on remand (either in a prison or a hospital) or you've been convicted but haven't been sentenced yet.

You can register at your address outside the prison. You can also register at the prison's address if the registration officer thinks you've been, or will be, on remand in the prison for a long enough amount of time for it to be thought of as your home address.

If you don't want to use your home address or the prison's address, you can make a declaration of local connection by filling out the Register to vote (no fixed address) form on GOV.UK. There are 2 forms - one for people in England and Wales and one for people in Scotland. You need to send the completed form to your local electoral registration office - you can look up where this is on GOV.UK.

The declaration must give both the name of the prison and the address where you'd live if you weren't in prison. If you can't give your most recent home address, you should give an address in the UK where you've lived at any time.

If you need to register anonymously

You can register anonymously, but only if you feel at risk, for example, from an ex-partner. If you'd like to register to vote anonymously, you can fill out the form on GOV.UK. There are 2 versions of the form - one for England and Wales and another for Scotland.

Removing your details from the electoral register

If you don't want to be on the electoral register anymore, you should contact the electoral registration officer and give your reasons in writing. The local authority might have a standard form that you can fill in. Anyone on the electoral register can do this, even if they aren't in the same constituency.

You can ask for your details to be taken out of the copies of the register sold to businesses. You can also complain if you think someone else's name should be on the register - you might think they don't live in the constituency anymore or that they aren't entitled to vote.

If the registration officer decides not to allow your complaint straight away, they'll let you know and tell you the reasons why. You'll have 3 days from the date of the registration officer's notice to ask for a hearing, which is a chance for you and the person you don't think should be on the register to present your cases.

The electoral registration officer will set a time and place for the hearing.
You and/or the the person you don't think should be on the register can choose to go to the hearing in person or choose to be represented by someone else. You can give written statements as well as oral evidence.

If you're still unhappy with the decision of the registration officer, you can appeal against it in the county court (sheriff court in Scotland).

How the electoral register is put together

The electoral register is put together every year. Every local authority has an electoral registration officer who is in charge of the process.

It's against the law to give false information on the electoral registration form, or on any other document about voting.

If the registration officer asks you for more information, you must give it because it's against the law if you don't do this.

You can get more information about registering to vote from the Electoral Commission.

From the information you provide, the electoral registration officer puts together a register. You can look at this all year round at local council offices and other public places like main post offices and libraries. You can apply to be added to the register or to have your details changed on the register at any time during the year, but when there is an election, registration applications must be received between two to four weeks before election day, depending on the election timetable.

The registration officer will either publish notices explaining changes to the register or publish an updated version of the register at any point in the year. It should take around 6 to 8 weeks for you to be registered, but might take around 15 weeks if you apply between October and March, because this is a busy time when they collect new registration details.

How to vote

Before election day, everyone entitled to vote will be sent a polling card, unless you've asked for a proxy or postal vote. The card will give details of the polling station and the when it's open. You don't need to take your polling card with you when you go to vote, but it might be easier if you do.

You can get more information about how to vote in Scottish parliamentary elections from The Scottish Parliament.

Help if you're disabled

If you're disabled, you might be able to vote by post or by proxy.

If you're blind or partially sighted, the polling station must be set up so you can vote without any help. You can get more information about voting and elections on the RNIB website.

If you're physically disabled or can't read, you might be able to take someone to help you fill in the ballot form and put it in the ballot box. The person helping you must be 18 or over (16 or over if it's a Scottish Parliamentary or local government election in Scotland), and be entitled to vote, and must confirm this in writing. They can't help more than one disabled voter to vote at that election. The presiding officer has to be happy that you need someone else's help to vote. You can also ask the presiding officer to fill in the ballot paper for you.

Applying for a postal vote

If you haven't registered yourself to vote by post at least 12 working days before the next General Election, you won't be able vote in it by post. If you're already registered to vote, you'll be able to vote in person at a polling station because your details will still be on the current electoral register.

Once you're registered to vote, you can choose to vote by post at both parliamentary and local government elections for a particular election, a set amount of time or until you decide to vote another way.

If you want to apply for a postal vote, you should fill in the form on GOV.UK. You can only fill in one form per person. If you want to apply in writing, you'll need to:

  • give your full name, date of birth and national insurance number
  • give the address where you are or will be registered
  • give the address you want the ballot paper sent to
  • say which period or election you want a postal vote for
  • say if the application is for parliamentary elections, local government elections, or both
  • sign and date the application

It's illegal to lie about an application for a postal vote. It's also against the law to get the registration officer to send a postal vote application form to an address when the person entitled to vote hasn't agreed to this.

An application for a postal vote has to be received by the registration officer at least 12 working days before the date of the election. If you've already registered to vote by post and then change your mind, the registration officer must get your application at least 11 working days before the election. Once you've made a successful application, you should be added to a section of the register called the 'absent voters list'.

You should get confirmation that you have been given a postal vote (if there is enough time before the election). You'll get:

  • a ballot paper
  • a postal voting statement that you must sign and add your date of birth to - when you sign this, you're confirming that you're the person the ballot paper was sent to
  • pre-paid envelopes if you need them
  • information about how you can find out how to vote in languages apart from English, in Braille or in other forms like audible forms

If you're registered and have applied to vote by post and you don't get your postal ballot paper by the 4th working day before the day of the election, you can apply to the registration officer for a replacement ballot paper. The application for a replacement ballot paper must include evidence of your identity. You should then be given a replacement ballot paper. In Scotland, for local council elections, you can apply for a replacement ballot paper at any point up until 5pm on election day.

Applying for a proxy vote

Voting by proxy means that you choose someone else to vote on your behalf, as long as they're eligible to vote.

You can vote at parliamentary and local government elections once you've registered to vote by proxy. You can choose how long you want to vote like this - for a particular election, for a set amount of time or until you change your mind.

You can find the form to register for a proxy vote and where to send it on GOV.UK.

Anyone can apply to vote by proxy for a particular election, but you might only be able to have a proxy vote for a particular or indefinite period if you're:

  • registered as a member of the armed forces
  • registered as an overseas voter
  • unable to vote in person without travelling by sea or air
  • unable to vote in person because of the type of job you or your partner does (you'll need proof of this from your employer)
  • blind or have another disability which means you can't vote in person at the a polling station or you can't vote without help

If you want to apply to vote by proxy for a particular election and you're not in one of these groups, you must prove to the registration officer that you can't reasonably be expected to vote in person at your local polling station on the day of the election. It's against the law to make someone vote by proxy or lie about an application for a proxy vote. It's also against the law to get the registration officer to send a proxy vote application form to an address when the person entitled to vote hasn't agreed to this.

The registration officer has to get an application for a proxy vote at least six working days before the date of the poll. If you become ill just before election day, you can apply for an emergency proxy vote if you have medical evidence. In Scotland, if you can't vote in person because of work reasons, you can also apply for an emergency proxy vote up until 5pm on election day.

If you've already registered to vote by proxy and then change your mind, you must tell the registration officer at least 11 working days before the poll. Once a successful application has been made, you should be added to a section of the electoral register known as the 'absent voters list'.

You should get confirmation that you have been given a proxy vote (if there is enough time before the election). It should say the name and address of the proxy and the length of time they can act as your proxy. Your proxy will also get confirmation and, just before polling day, they will get a proxy poll card or a proxy postal ballot paper, depending how you've chosen to vote.

If you have a disability

You can decide how long you want to have a proxy vote - it can just be for one election, a short amount of time or until you decide to stop voting like this. Your application form must be countersigned by a registered healthcare practitioner or social worker.

If you live in residential care, a local authority care or nursing home or sheltered accommodation, you can have your application signed by the person in charge. The person who signs the application form has to confirm that:

  • they're treating (or providing care to) you for the physical disability described in the application
  • it isn't reasonable to expect you to go to the polling station in person or to vote there without help
  • your physical disability is likely to continue either indefinitely or for the particular period specified in the application

If you are applying for a proxy vote (for a particular or indefinite period) because you're disabled, you won't need to have your application signed if you're:

  • registered blind
  • on the higher rate mobility of Disability Living Allowance, or the enhanced rate mobility of Personal Independence Payment, or Armed Forces Independence payment
  • registered with the local authority because of your physical disability or mental health condition

Appealing a voting registration decision

You'll be told if the registration officer decides not to give you a postal or proxy vote and the reasons why. You can appeal against this decision, but not if you applied to vote by post or proxy in a particular election only. You must write to the registration officer within 14 days of getting the notice of refusal. You need to explain the reasons for your appeal in your letter. The registration officer will send the notice of appeal to the right county court (sheriff court in Scotland) with details of their decision.

Challenging an election result

You can challenge the result of a parliamentary or European parliamentary election if you don't think it was run properly. For a local government election, four or more voters acting together can challenge the result. You'll need to fill in form N244 and send a letter explaining why you want to make the challenge within 21 days of the election to the Election Petitions Office of the Royal Courts of Justice or Court of Session in Scotland.

You'll also be charged a fee of £535.

You can read more about how to challenge election results on GOV.UK or you can contact the Election Petitions Office:

Election Petitions Office
Telephone: 0207 947 6877
Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 4.30pm
Email: election_petitions@hmcts.gsi.gov.uk
Election Petitions Office 
Room E113 
Royal Courts of Justice 
Strand 
London 
WC2A 2LL 

Calls to this number can cost up to 13p a minute from a landline, or between 3p and 55p a minute from a mobile (your phone supplier can tell you how much you'll pay).

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