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Voting procedures

This advice applies to Northern Ireland

Can you register to vote

There are two versions of the electoral register. The full version lists everyone who is eligible to vote. This is available to political parties, some government agencies and credit reference agencies. It is also available for public inspection all year round at council offices and selected other places.

There is also an edited version of the electoral register. This is available for open sale and you have the right to opt out of this version of the register.

To be included on the electoral register at the address where you are resident, you must:

  • be a British, Irish or Commonwealth citizen, or a citizen of a Member State of the European Union, but see below
  • be aged 16 or over, but see below
  • not be a person who is excluded from voting - see below

Citizenship

The following people can register to vote in European parliamentary, UK parliamentary elections (this means general and by-elections), Northern Ireland Assembly 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 and eligible Irish citizens living overseas can register and vote in European and UK parliamentary elections but not elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly 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 (if they have completed a form stating they wish to vote in the UK and not their home country)
  • UK 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 UK 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 UK local government elections, EU citizens must be included on the electoral register for the constituency in which they vote - see How is the electoral register compiled.

Age

If you are going to be 17 during the twelve month period before the register is published in December, 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

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 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.

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)
  • people aged under 18
  • 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 UK parliamentary elections only)

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 at home on polling day you can vote in person.  Otherwise, you will need to appoint a proxy [link to section on proxy votes below] to vote on your behalf as postal votes cannot be sent outside the United Kingdom.

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 Office for Northern Ireland's website.

You must return the completed forms to the. Electoral Office for Northern Ireland.You have to renew your registration every year. The first time the declaration is made, you must give details of your British or eligible Irish citizenship. You will get a reminder from the Electoral Office 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)
  • patients in psychiatric hospitals (other than those detained as a consequence of criminal activity
  • people remanded in custody
  • people resident in more than one constituency

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 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 Can you register to vote); and
  • state that you are at least 16 years old or, if you are not, give your date of birth (see 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 can download a declaration form from the EONI website or contact your Area Electoral Office. 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 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. 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 Electoral Office for  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 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. 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 Northern Ireland where you have lived at any time.

If you are detained under, the Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 you may not vote in person, but must instead vote by post or proxy.

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 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 Electoral Office for 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. 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 Northern Ireland 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 Office for 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 not qualify to register 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 an equal amount of time there, the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland may well consider you are eligible to be included in the register.

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 postal or a proxy vote, you must satisfy the Electoral Office that you are eligible.

How is the electoral register compiled

In Northern Ireland the electoral register is updated by continuous registration through the year.  Applicants submit a registration form to add their name to the register or update their details and electors are removed from the register if they no longer fulfil the registration requirements. There are monthly deadlines for registering.  The dates applicants will be added to the register can be found on the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland website. A revised register is published in December each year.

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

If the Electoral Office asks you for more information, you must give it. If you fail to do so, this is also against the law.

The Electoral Office maintains two versions of the electoral register – the full register and the edited register.  A new register is published on 1 December every year and a revised version is normally published before and election.

The full register lists the names and addresses of everyone entitled to vote. Only certain people and organisations may obtain copies of the full Register and they may only use if for specified purposes.

The edited register leaves out the names and addresses of people who have opted to be excluded from that version of the Register by ticking the relevant box on the registration form.

More information about the registers

More information about registering to vote

Can you register anonymously

You can register anonymously, but only if you feel your safety would be at risk if your name and address appeared on the register, 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 can download a form to register as an anonymous elector from the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland website.

How to check your registration

You can check you current electoral registration by phone or email.  If you phone the Electoral Office Helpline on 0800 4320 712 between 9am and 4.30pm Monday to Friday and provide your name, address and date of birth, they will confirm whether you are registered.  You can also email you name, address and date of birth to info@eoni.org.uk for confirmation that you are registered.

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 Office for Northern Ireland and put your objections in writing. Any person on the electoral register (not necessarily in the same constituency) may make such an objection.

If the Electoral Office 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 Electoral Office’s notice to ask for a hearing.

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 Office 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 Electoral Office you can appeal against it in the county court.

How to vote

Before polling day, everyone entitled to vote will be sent a polling card. 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.

In Northern Ireland you also need to show a valid form of photo ID.  This can be

  • a UK or Irish passport
  • a photographic UK, Irish or EEA driving licence
  • a Translink Senior SmartPass, or 60+ Smartpass, or War Disabled Smartpass or Blind Persons Smartpass
  • an electoral identity card

Your photographic identification does not need to be current so even if it is out of date you can still use it to vote.

Electoral identity cards

An electoral identity card is one of the forms of identification that can be used when you vote at a polling station. If the card has expired it can still be used to vote at a polling station. You only need to update your card if you change your name or if your appearance changes significantly from the photo on the card. As the card is proof of identity, not of address, you don’t have to update your card if you change address.

The purpose of an electoral identity card is to identify you for voting purposes.  However, it is also accepted by some UK airlines and banks/building societies as proof of identity and age.

You can apply for a card in person at any Area Electoral Office, where your photograph will be taken for the card free of charge. You will have to provide your National Insurance Number. The application form, which is the same as the electoral registration form, can be downloaded from the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland website.  For details of how to apply by post, see the Electoral Office website.

Provided you have provided the correct information and you are on the current electoral register the Electoral Identity Card will normally be issued within 10 working days.  If you are not on the register the card will be issued within 10 working days of the date you are added to the register.

More about electoral identity cards

Help for disabled people

If you are disabled, you may be able to vote by post or by proxy.

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 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 votes

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 be eligible for a permanent postal vote you must provide a reason why you cannot reasonably be expected to go to your polling station on a permanent or long-term basis.  This may be because of:

  • a disability
  • your work or that of your husband, wife or civil partner
  • your studies or that of your husband, wife or civil partner

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.

In Northern Ireland you must have a reason to vote by post.  This may be because:

  • you are away from home due to work, study or a holiday during an election
  • you have moved home and are still registered at your old address
  • you have an illness or disability that prevents you from going to the polling station

To vote by post you need to fill in an application form, which you can get from your Area Electoral Office or you can download the form from the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland’s website.

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 Electoral Office to send a postal vote application form to an address when the person entitled to vote has not agreed to this.

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 Area Electoral Office 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 will be sent a ballot paper before the polling day. You must post it back to arrive before the deadline (10pm on polling day).  Alternatively, you can hand deliver your ballot paper to the Area Electoral Office that issued it.  Ballot papers cannot be handed in at polling station or council offices. If you choose to vote by post you cannot vote at a polling station.  You will still receive a polling card, but this will be for notification purposes only.  Postal votes can only be sent to addresses within the United Kingdom.

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.

Anyone can apply to vote by proxy for a particular election.  You must provide a reason why you cannot vote in person.

To be eligible for a permanent postal vote you must provide a reason why you cannot reasonably be expected to go to your polling station on a permanent basis or long-term basis.  This may be because of:

  • a disability
  • your work or that of your husband, wife or civil partner
  • your studies or that of your husband, wife or civil partner

To make an application for a proxy vote, you must fill in an application form, which you can download from the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland website. On the form  you must:

  • state your full name and date of birth;
  • give you national insurance number, if you have one;
  • provide the address where you are or will be registered, your phone number and email address;
  • provide the full name and address of the proxy together with their family relationship to you, if relevant;
  • state the grounds on which you claim to be entitled to a proxy vote - see above;
  • sign and date the application.

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 Electoral Office to send a proxy vote application form to an address when the person entitled to vote has not agreed to this.

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, approximately one week 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:-

  • to the best of their knowledge you have 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
  • getting the highest rate of the care component of disability living allowance; or
  • getting the higher rate of attendance allowance

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 Electoral Officer 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 Electoral Officer  within 14 days of having received the notice of refusal. You must specify the grounds of the appeal.

The Electoral Officer will forward the notice of appeal to the appropriate county court 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. This must be done within 21 days of the election.

More information about the procedure for challenging the outcome can be obtained from the clerk of the Crown. The address is:-

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

Tel: 028 9023 5111

Other useful information

www.aboutmyvote.co.uk is a site run by the Electoral Commission.  It explains how voting at the various local and national elections work, and how to register to vote.

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