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How Voting Works in the UK

Information in this overview section focuses on the three different ways of voting and how to vote in elections in the United Kingdom. Registered voters can cast their vote in person at a polling station or by post. You can also get someone else to vote on your behalf (by proxy).

Three Ways of Voting and UK Age Limits

You need to be on the electoral register to cast your vote in United Kingdom elections and referendums.

There is a minimum age limit for voter registration. You must be:

  • Age 16 in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland (you can vote from 18)
  • Age 14 in Scotland (you can vote in Scottish elections from 16 and other elections from 18)

Once you have registered to vote, your name and your address will appear on the electoral register. You can then choose between:

  • Voting in person at an organised polling station
  • Voting by postal methods
  • Voting by proxy (having someone else cast your vote for you)

Note: There are six different types of election and referendums with differing rules on who can vote in them.

Voting in Person

One of the Electoral Registration Offices will send a poll card to your address before an election. The poll card informs you where and when to cast your vote.

You can contact their office if you did not get a card. Even so, you can still vote without a polling card.

As a general rule, you will find polling stations located in public buildings, such as local community halls and schools. On the actual day of the election (called ‘polling day’) the polling stations will be open from 7am to 10pm for people to cast their votes.

What Happens at the Polling Station?

You must give your name and address to the staff inside when you get to the polling station. You can still give your details even without the poll card.

The staff will give you a ballot paper that contains a list of the people, the parties, or the options you can vote for. Fill in the ballot paper by:

  1. Taking your ballot paper into one of the polling booths.
  2. Follow the instructions written on notices inside the polling booth and on top of the ballot paper.
  3. Mark your ballot paper and place it inside the ballot box.

Note: Voting in Northern Ireland means you must show photo ID (e.g. driving licence, Electoral Identity Card, passport, or certain types of Translink Smartpass).

Voting for the Disabled

Staff at the Electoral Registration Office can give extra information on voting facilities if you are disabled, such as:

  • Physical accessibility (e.g. disabled parking spaces and wheelchair ramps).
  • Low-level polling booths.
  • Special equipment available for voters with a visual impairment.

Every polling station needs to provide a large print display version of the ballot paper. They must also offer a special device that enables blind people (and the visually impaired) to vote.

Note: You can also contact the nearest Electoral Registration Office for further information about how to apply to register to vote in elections.

Voting by Postal Methods

You can choose to vote in elections and referendums by post. So, you would need to apply for a postal vote beforehand, if:

  • You will be away from home on polling day.
  • You are voting from abroad and want to cast a vote in England, Scotland, or Wales.

Note: There would be no specific need to give a reason unless you would be voting in Northern Ireland.

Applying to Vote by Post

You can apply for a postal vote through the Electoral Commission to set up a postal vote for:

  • A single election taking place on a specific date.
  • Permanent use.
  • A specific period (for voting in England, Scotland, and Wales).

Note: Contact the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland (EONI) for the form to apply to vote by post.

When Voting by Post, You Should:

  • Mark the vote on the ballot paper in secret.
  • Fill in the postal voting statement.
  • Insert the ballot and the statement inside the envelope provided.
  • Seal the envelope yourself and then mail it back without delay.

Note: Take it to a local polling station by 10pm, or Electoral Registration Office before they close if you are too late to post the ballot paper. Take it to the returning officer in Scotland or a local Area Electoral Office before they close in Northern Ireland.

Change of Address for Postal Vote

You can make a new application for a postal vote using the same form. This would be necessary after a change of house address or being away from home when they send out the postal vote. Use a different form in Northern Ireland.

Request Replacement Ballot Papers

You can ask for a replacement ballot paper by contacting the Electoral Registration Office (returning officer in Scotland). But, you would need to collect it in person. If the original ballot paper is spoiled:

  • Take the spoiled paper with you.
  • Take the rest of the ballot pack already sent to you.

Note: You can replace a lost or spoiled ballot paper up to 5pm on polling day in England, Wales, and in Scotland. You can replace a spoiled ballot paper up to 5pm on polling day in Northern Ireland (but not if it was lost).

Voting by Proxy

You can get someone to vote for you, and tell them who to vote for (make a proxy vote), if you are unable to vote in person. You can apply to set up a vote by proxy for:

  • A single election taking place on a specific date.
  • Permanent use.
  • A specific period (for voting in England, Scotland, and Wales).

To do so, you must meet certain circumstances and give a reason for the application. Typical examples include:

  • Being away on polling day or working (e.g. attending a course).
  • Having a disability or a medical issue.
  • Not being able to vote in person at a polling station due to work or military service.
  • British Council employees or Crown servants (e.g. diplomatic or overseas civil service).

Note: As a rule, someone needs to sign the application form confirming the reasons for wanting a proxy vote. The application form provides further information.

Apply to Vote by Proxy

So, who can act as a proxy? It can be anyone, providing they have registered to vote and they are allowed to cast a vote in the same type of election. You can also be a proxy for two (2) people at the same election (or more if they are close relatives).

Proxy Voting in England, Scotland, or Wales

As a rule, you should apply at least six (6) working days in advance of election day by filling in the most appropriate proxy voting application form (also available in Welsh).

Proxy Voting in Northern Ireland

There is a different application form for Northern Ireland. Apply at least fourteen (14) working days in advance of polling day.

Change or Cancel a Proxy Vote

Contact a local Electoral Registration Office to start voting in person or to change the person acting as a proxy. You can complete a postal vote application to start voting by post instead.

Voting Rules in the United Kingdom