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Voting procedures

Registering to vote

You can now register to vote online. You'll need your national insurance number (if you have one) to register, and it only takes about five minutes.

To be included on the electoral register, you must:

  • be aged 18 or over, but see below
  • be aged 15 years old or over (and in some cases 14 years old) in Scotland
  • must have one of the types of citizenship listed below
  • be living in the constituency in which you wish to vote - see below. If you’re a British citizen living overseas, see below
  • not be a person who is excluded from voting - see below.

Age

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, if you are going to be 18 during the twelve month period after the register is published, you should be entered on the register so that you will be able to vote as soon as you become 18. Your date of birth must be given on the electoral registration form.

In Scotland, you can register to vote if you are 15 years old or over (and in some cases 14 years old). From 2016, you will be eligible to vote in Scottish Parliament and Scottish local government elections once you are 16. You will be eligible to vote in UK and European elections once you are 18.

Citizenship

The following people can register to vote in European parliamentary, British parliamentary elections (this means general and by-elections) and local government elections:

  • British citizens (but see below if you’re a British citizen living abroad)
  • citizens of the Republic of Ireland who are living in the UK
  • British Overseas Territories citizens who are living in the UK
  • Commonwealth citizens who are living in the UK.

If you're a Commonwealth citizen or British Overseas Territories citizen who wishes to register to vote, you must either:

  • have leave to enter or remain in the UK; or
  • be someone who does not need leave to enter or remain in the UK.

British citizens living overseas can register and vote in European and British parliamentary elections but not elections to the Scottish Parliament or local elections. If you've been living abroad for over 15 years, you might lose this right. Gibraltar nationals can vote only in European parliamentary elections in the UK.

If you are not sure what type of citizenship you have, or whether or not you are eligible to vote, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

EU citizens

European Union (EU) citizens have the right to vote in:

  • European parliamentary elections
  • British local government elections
  • Scottish Parliamentary elections, if they live in Scotland
  • National Assembly for Wales elections, if they live in Wales
  • Northern Ireland Assembly elections, if they live in Northern Ireland.

European nationals who are not EU citizens do not have a right to vote in these elections. EU citizens cannot vote in British parliamentary elections.

For European parliamentary elections, EU citizens can vote either in their 'home' country, or the EU country in which they are currently living. They cannot vote in both.

To be eligible to vote in British local government elections, EU citizens must be included on the electoral register for the constituency in which they vote - see under heading How is the electoral register compiled.

Residency

To register to vote or declare a local connection, you must be resident in the constituency on the date on which you make the application to register (see under heading Special arrangements for specific groups when registering to vote). If you are temporarily away from home, for example, if you are studying away from home, you can still vote or declare a local connection in the constituency where you usually live.

There are some exceptions to this rule, for example, people who live abroad, some homeless people, remand prisoners and people in psychiatric hospitals – but see below for a fuller explanation.

Who cannot vote

The following people are not eligible to vote:-

  • anyone who is not on the electoral register on polling day
  • people from abroad, (other than EU citizens, citizens of the Republic of Ireland and qualifying Commonwealth citizens who are resident in the UK - see above)
  • in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, people aged under 18 cannot vote 
  • in Scotland, people under 16 cannot vote in Scottish Parliament or Scottish local government elections and people under 18 cannot vote in UK General elections or European elections.
  • most sentenced prisoners. However, the European Court of Human Rights has decided that this may breach human rights. A prisoner who is not able to vote should get specialist advice.
  • people who are detained in a psychiatric hospital as a consequence of criminal activity
  • certain people convicted of corrupt or illegal electoral practices
  • peers of the realm who remain members of the House of Lords (for British parliamentary elections only)
  • people who have a severe mental illness and are unable to understand the voting procedure.

If you are not sure if you are entitled to vote you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

Overseas voters

If you live abroad, have been resident in the United Kingdom, and have been registered as a United Kingdom resident elector within the previous 15 years, you can make an annual declaration. This will allow you to be included each year on the electoral register in the constituency where you were last registered before you went abroad. Registration as an overseas voter is voluntary.

Once registered, you can vote at any parliamentary or European parliament election which occurs while you are on the register. You cannot vote in local government elections or in elections to devolved assemblies, for example, the National Assembly for Wales, the Scottish Parliament or the Northern Ireland Assembly.

If you are now old enough to be included on the register, but you were too young to be included when you left the United Kingdom, you can also make an annual declaration, provided you have lived in the United Kingdom within the last 15 years and your parent or guardian had been included on the electoral register.

Anyone who is eligible, and who wishes to register as an overseas elector, must complete the necessary forms, normally available from British consulates and diplomatic posts, or you can download them from the Electoral Commission's website at www.aboutmyvote.co.uk.

You must return the completed forms to the electoral registration officer for the constituency in which you were last registered. You must do this annually. The first time the declaration is made, you must give details of your British citizenship (which is the only type of citizenship - see under heading Can you register to vote - that counts to be an overseas voter). You will get a reminder from the registration officer (the chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland) to renew your overseas elector declaration.

Special arrangements for specific groups when registering to vote

There are special arrangements for some groups of people when registering to vote. These groups are:-

  • homeless people (including some travellers) - see below
  • patients in psychiatric hospitals (other than those detained as a consequence of criminal activity) - see below
  • people remanded in custody - see below
  • people resident in more than one constituency - see below.

Declaration of local connection

A declaration of local connection (declaration) may be made by homeless people, patients in psychiatric hospitals and remand prisoners. This should be used if you are in one of the above groups and do not fulfil the usual residence requirements (see under heading Can you register to vote), but are otherwise entitled to register to vote.

The declaration must:-

  • give your name; and
  • provide an address for correspondence to be sent to, or an undertaking to collect such correspondence from the electoral registration office; and
  • give the date of the declaration; and
  • state that you fall into one of the categories that are allowed to make a declaration and state the relevant category that applies to you; and
  • state that you fulfil the nationality requirements (see under heading Can you register to vote); and
  • state that you are 18 years old or, if you are not, give your date of birth (see under heading Can you register to vote).

If you enter more than one address, or submit more than one declaration bearing the same date and different addresses, the declaration(s) will be void. You may cancel a declaration at any time.

A declaration enables you to apply to register to vote. You must submit the declaration to the registration officer (chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland) within three months of the date on the declaration and you will be treated as being resident at the address you have given. This registration will be valid for twelve months unless cancelled or superseded.

Homeless people

If you are homeless, you should make a declaration giving the address of a place where you spend a substantial part of your time, or the address of somewhere near to that place. This could include a cafe or drop-in centre. A traveller who is not on a settled site may be able to make a declaration.

Patients in psychiatric hospitals

People detained in a psychiatric hospital as a consequence of criminal activity are not entitled to vote (see under heading Can you register to vote).

If you are a short-term patient in a psychiatric hospital you can register to vote by completing the usual electoral registration form - see below. You should give your usual address outside the hospital as your place of residence.

If you are a short-term patient with no address outside the hospital and are concerned you may not be entered on the electoral register, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.

If you are a long-term patient in a psychiatric hospital when a new electoral register is being drawn up, you are entitled to register to vote. You can register at your address outside the hospital. Alternatively, you can register at the address of the hospital if the registration officer (chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland) considers that you have been, or will be, in the hospital for a long enough period of time for it to be regarded as the your place of residence.

If you do not wish to use your home address or the hospital's address, you can make a declaration of local connection - see above. The declaration must give both the name of the psychiatric hospital and the address where you would be living if you were not in the hospital. If you cannot provide your most recent home address, you should provide an address in the United Kingdom where you have lived at any time.

If you are detained under the Mental Health Act 1983 (in Scotland, the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003 and, in Northern Ireland, the Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1986) you may not vote in person, but must instead vote by post (see under heading How to vote) or proxy (see under heading How to vote).

People remanded in custody

The only prisoners who are entitled to vote are those detained on remand (whether in prison or in hospital) and those convicted but not yet sentenced (see under heading Can you register to vote).

You can register at your address outside the prison. Alternatively, you can register at the address of the prison if the registration officer (chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland) considers that you have been, or will be, on remand in the prison for a long enough period of time for it to be regarded as your place of residence.

If you do not wish to use your home address or the prison's address, you can make a declaration of local connection - see above. The declaration must give both the name of the prison and the address where you would be living if you were not in the prison. If you cannot provide your most recent home address, you should provide an address in the United Kingdom where you have lived at any time.

People resident in more than one constituency

Your position if you have more than one home is complex. Your rights to be included on the register and vote in a particular constituency depend on your circumstances. It will be necessary to consult the electoral registration officer (chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland) in this situation.

You can be entered on more than one electoral register if you are resident in more than one constituency. For example, if you are a student you may be registered at one address by your parent/guardian and may also register yourself at your college/university town if you are living away from home.

However, in some situations, you may be prevented by the electoral registration officer (chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland) from registering in two places. For example, if you have a holiday home but spend only a few days there each year, you may not be considered to be 'resident' there. However, if you spend most weekends there, the registration officer (chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland) may well consider you are eligible to be included in the register. If you wish to appeal against a decision to exclude you from the register, you should follow the correct procedure (see under heading How is the electoral role register compiled).

Although it is not illegal to be registered in more than one place, it is illegal to vote twice in the same election, for example, a parliamentary general election. However, you can vote in elections for two separate local councils.

If you are not in the constituency where you wish to vote on polling day and wish to apply for a proxy vote, you must satisfy the registration officer that you are eligible (see under heading How to vote). 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 (see under heading How to vote).

How is the electoral register compiled

The electoral register is compiled annually but amended throughout the year. Every local authority has an electoral registration officer (chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland) who is in charge of the process.

Individual Electoral Registration

The way that you register to vote is changing with the introduction of Individual Electoral Registration (IER). In England and Wales, from 10 June 2014 and in Scotland from 19 September 2014, if you are eligible to vote, you now have to register the details yourself if:

  • you are a new voter, or
  • the details held about you on the current electoral register don’t match with details held on the Department for Work and Pensions database.

This is a change from the former system where one person registered everyone eligible to vote in the household on a registration card which was sent back to the local Electoral Registration Office.

To prepare for the move to IER, electoral registration officers (EROs) will have written to voters who are already on the current electoral register by 10 August 2014 in England and Wales and by 31 December 2014 in Scotland, to tell them about the changes. They will check the birthdate and National Insurance numbers of people who are already on the current electoral register against the information on the DWP database.

If your details match, you will be transferred automatically to IER and there will be no need to do anything.

Where there isn’t a match or only some of the details match, the ERO is also able to look at other databases, such as council tax records to confirm your identity. If they are unable to confirm the match through other databases, you will have to register to vote yourself.

Nobody will be taken off the current electoral register until after the next General Election on May 7 2015.

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. If you fail to do so, this is also against the law.

You can get more information about registering to vote from the Electoral Commission's website at www.aboutmyvote.co.uk.

From the information you provide, the electoral registration officer (chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland) compiles a register. This is open for inspection all year round at local council offices and other public places, for example, main post offices and libraries. You can apply to be added to the register or to have your details amended on the register at any time throughout the year, although, when an election is held, registration applications must be received between two to four weeks before polling day, depending on the election timetable.

The registration officer (chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland) will either publish notices setting out changes to the register or publish a revised version of the register at any point in the year. Your registration should take no longer than six to eight weeks, except during the period when new registration details are being collected, usually between October and March, when an unregistered person might have to wait up to fifteen weeks before being added to the register.

Can you register anonymously

You can register anonymously, but only if you feel at risk, for example, from an ex-partner. Otherwise, failure to provide information to the registration staff or to complete the registration form or to give false information may result in you being prosecuted and fined.

You have not been included in the register

If you consider you are eligible to register, but have not been included in the register, you can now register online to vote at GOV.UK

You can also register by post by downloading the Individual Registration Form PDF , completing the form and sending it back to the Electoral Registration Officer at your local council.

You can also get a form from the electoral registration officer (chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland) at your local council. Alternatively, you can apply in a letter containing all relevant information. You can make the application or you can ask someone else to do it on your behalf.

All additions to, and deletions from, the register are issued by the registration officer (chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland) in a public notice. You can object to any amendment to the register - see below.

If the registration officer (chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland) decides to allow your application, your name will be entered on the electoral register with effect from the day the notice is published. However, if your name is added to the register after the close of nomination of candidates, you will not be able to vote in that particular election. You should therefore make sure you register to vote at least 12 working days before the date of the election in which you want to vote.

If the registration officer (chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland) decides not to allow an application, you will be notified of the decision and the grounds on which it was made. You then have three days from the date of receiving this notice in which to ask for a hearing - see below.

How to object to an inclusion in the register

You may wish to object to the inclusion of your name, or someone else's name, in the register, for example, because you believe they are no longer resident in the constituency or are not entitled to vote. You can also object to the inclusion of your details in copies of the register which are sold to commercial organisations. If you wish to object you should contact the electoral registration officer (chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland) and put your objections in writing. The local authority may have a standard form that you can fill in. Any person on the electoral register (not necessarily in the same constituency) may make such an objection.

If the registration officer (chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland) decides to disallow your objection immediately, you will be notified of the decision and the grounds on which it was made. You then have three days from the date of the registration officer's notice to ask for a hearing - see below.

If there is a hearing, both the objector and the person they are objecting to will be able to present their cases.

Hearings of claims and objections

Unless a claim or objection is allowed or disallowed immediately, the electoral registration officer (chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland) will set a time and place to hear the claim or objection.

At the hearing, you and/or the objector can appear in person or choose to be represented by someone else. You may submit written statements as well as oral evidence.

If you are still unhappy with the decision of the registration officer (chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland), you can appeal against it in the county court (sheriff court in Scotland).

How to vote

Before polling day, everyone entitled to vote will be sent a polling card, unless a proxy (see below) or postal vote (see below) has previously been agreed. The card will give details of the polling station and the hours it is open. You do not need to take the polling card to the polling station when you go to vote, but it may be more convenient to do so.

If you do not want to, or cannot, attend the polling station in person, you can apply for a postal vote (see below), or a proxy vote (see below) if you meet the relevant criteria.

For more information about how to vote in Scottish parliamentary elections, see The Scottish Parliament.

Help for disabled people

If you are disabled, you may be able to vote by post (see below) or by proxy (see below).

If you are partially sighted and choose to vote in person, the polling station must display a large print version of the ballot paper to assist you. If you are blind or partially sighted the polling station must also provide a device to enable you to fill in your ballot papers without any need for assistance from anyone else.

If you are physically disabled or unable to read, you may take a companion to help you complete the ballot form and put it in the ballot box. Your companion must be aged 18 or over (16 or over if it is a Scottish Parliamentary or local government election in Scotland) and be entitled to vote, and must make a written declaration to this effect.

Your companion cannot help more than one disabled voter to vote at that election. The presiding officer has to be satisfied that you need the help of a companion in order to vote.

Alternatively, you can ask the presiding officer to mark the ballot paper on your behalf.

Postal voters and Individual Electoral Registration

Changes to postal voting will happen before the next general election in 2015.

If you currently vote by post, your details will be checked against the DWP database. If they match you will be automatically transferred to IER.

If your details don’t match you will no longer be able to vote by post until you have registered yourself. The electoral registratio officer will write to you to tell you how to do this.

If you have not registered yourself to vote by post at least 12 working days before 7 May 2015, you will not be able vote by post in the next General Election. However, if you are already registered to vote you will be able to vote in person at a polling station because your details will still be on the current electoral register.

Once you are registered to vote, you can choose to vote by post at both parliamentary and local government elections for:

  • an indefinite period
  • a particular period
  • a particular election.

To make an application for a postal vote, you must:

  • give your full name, date of birth and national insurance number
  • provide the address where you are or will be registered
  • provide the address to which the ballot paper must be sent
  • specify the period or the particular election for which the application is made
  • state whether the application is made for parliamentary elections, local government elections, or both
  • sign and date the application.

Complete the application form available from your electoral registration office or from the voting website (www.aboutmyvote.co.uk). Only one application form can be used for each person. Alternatively, you can apply in writing, although care must be taken to ensure that the letter contains all the information necessary (see above).

It is against the law to give false information about an application for a postal vote. It is 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 has not agreed to this.

An application for a postal vote has to be received by the registration officer (chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland) at least 12 working days before the date of the poll. If you have already registered to vote by post and then change your mind, for example, you want instead to vote by proxy or to be removed from the record, the registration officer (chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland) must receive your application at least eleven working days before the poll. Once a successful application has been made, you should be added to a section of the register known as the absent voters list.

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

  • a ballot paper
  • a postal voting statement that you must sign and on which you must state your date of birth. By signing the statement, you are confirming that you are the person to whom the ballot paper was sent
  • pre-paid envelopes as necessary
  • information about how to obtain guidance on voting in languages other than English, in Braille or in other forms such as audible forms.

If you are registered and have applied to vote by post and you do not receive your postal ballot paper by the fourth working day before the day of the poll, you can apply to the registration officer (chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland) for a replacement ballot paper. The application for a replacement ballot paper must include evidence of your identity. You should then be issued with a replacement ballot paper.

Proxy votes

Voting by proxy means that you appoint someone else to vote on your behalf.

The person appointed as a proxy must be eligible to vote (see under heading Can you register to vote).

Once you are registered to vote by proxy, you will be able to do so at both parliamentary and local government elections for either an indefinite period, a particular period or for a particular election. Only specified groups (see below), can apply to vote by proxy for a particular or indefinite period, but anyone can apply to vote by proxy for a particular election.

Anyone can apply to vote by proxy for a particular election (see above). However, only the following people may be eligible to vote by proxy for a particular or indefinite period:-

  • people registered as service voters (members of the armed forces)
  • people registered as overseas electors (see under heading Special arrangements for specific groups when registering to vote). People in this situation cannot vote in local government elections
  • people who cannot go in person to vote without making a journey by sea or air
  • people who cannot reasonably be expected to vote in person because of the general nature of their occupation or that of their spouse or civil partner (evidence is required from their employer)
  • people who are blind or have some other disability and who, as a result, cannot reasonably be expected to vote in person at the allotted polling station or cannot reasonably be expected to vote unaided - see above.

If you wish to apply to vote by proxy for a particular election and you are not in one of the groups listed above, you must satisfy the registration officer (chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland) that, on the date of the poll for that election, you cannot reasonably be expected to vote in person at your allotted polling station. This requirement does not apply to people listed above.

To make an application for a proxy vote, you must fill in an application form on which you must:-

  • state your full name; and
  • provide the address where you are or will be registered; and
  • provide the full name and address of the proxy together with their family relationship to you, if relevant; and
  • state the grounds on which you claim to be entitled to a proxy vote - see above; and
  • specify the period or the particular election for which the application is made; and
  • state whether the application is made for parliamentary elections, local government elections, or both; and
  • sign and date the application - see below.

It is against the law to try and persuade someone to vote by proxy or to give false information about an application for a proxy vote. It is 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 has not agreed to this.

An application for a proxy vote has to be received by the registration officer (chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland) at least six working days before the date of the poll. But if you become ill just before polling day, you can apply for an emergency proxy vote if you have medical evidence.

If you have already registered to vote by proxy and then change your mind, for example, you want instead to vote by post or to be removed from the record, the registration officer (chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland) must receive notification of this at least eleven 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 receive confirmation that you have been given a proxy vote (if there is enough time before the election) confirming the name and address of the proxy and the length of time they may act as your proxy. The proxy will also receive confirmation and, shortly before polling day, will receive a proxy poll card or a proxy postal ballot paper, depending on the chosen method of voting.

Proxy vote and disabled voters

If you are applying for a proxy vote (for a particular or indefinite period) on the grounds of disability, the 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. Some people don't have to have their application countersigned – see below.

The person who signs the application form has to state that:-

  • they are treating (or providing care to) you for the physical incapacity specified in the application; and
  • you cannot reasonably be expected to go in person to the allotted polling station or to vote there unaided; and
  • the physical incapacity 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) on the grounds of disability, you will not have to fulfil the requirements listed above if you are:-

  • registered blind; or
  • getting the higher rate of the mobility component of disability living allowance, or the enhanced rate of the mobility component of personal independence payment, or armed forces independence payment; or
  • registered with the local authority on grounds of physical and/or mental disability.

For more information about disability living allowance, see Benefits for people who are sick or disabled.

Appealing against refusal of a postal or a proxy vote

If the registration officer (chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland) refuses an application for a postal or proxy vote, you will be notified of this decision and the reasons for it. You can appeal against this decision, but not if you applied to vote by post or proxy in a particular election only.

You must give notice of the appeal by letter to the registration officer (chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland) within 14 days of having received the notice of refusal. You must specify the grounds of the appeal.

The registration officer (chief electoral officer in Northern Ireland) will forward the notice of appeal to the appropriate county court (sheriff court in Scotland) with details of their decision.

Challenging the outcome of an election

You can challenge the outcome of a parliamentary or European parliamentary election on the grounds of an irregularity. In the case of a local government election, four or more voters acting together can challenge the outcome.

To challenge the outcome, you need to file an election petition at the Election Petitions Office of the Royal Courts of Justice (Court of Session in Scotland). This must be done within 21 days of the election. A fee of £120 will be charged.

More information about the procedure for challenging the outcome can be obtained from the Election Petitions Office. The address is:-

England and Wales

Electoral Petitions Office
Room E19
Royal Courts of Justice
Strand
London
WC2A 2LL

Tel: 020 7947 7529
Fax: 020 7947 7339/6807

Scotland

Petitions Department
Court of Session
Parliament Square
Edinburgh
EH1 1RQ

Tel: 0131 240 6747

Northern Ireland

The Clerk of the Crown
Room 1.3
Royal Courts of Justice
Belfast
BT1 3JF

Tel: 028 9023 5111