For most elections (apart from parish by-elections), if you are registered to vote, you will receive a poll card prior to election day telling you where and when to vote. The card will also provide details of deadlines for applying to vote by post or proxy at that election. The poll card is for information only and you can still vote without it if you lose it, or forget to take it to the polling station with you. There is no need for you to remember or note down your elector number.
Postal voters and appointed proxy voters will also receive poll card letters at the appropriate time and these will give further guidelines on the voting procedure. For more information please see the postal voting and proxy voting pages of this web site.
Election day - at the polling station
When you arrive at the polling station, give your name and address and the staff on duty will check to make sure that your name is included in the Register of electors.
You will then be issued with a ballot paper/s which you should take to one of the polling booths, before voting for your chosen candidate(s) by putting a cross in the box against their name(s). You should then put your folded ballot paper into the correct sealed ballot box. If more than one election is taking place on the same day, then there may be more than one ballot box. Please make sure that you place the correct ballot papers in the correct ballot boxes. You are not allowed to take your ballot paper outside of the polling station.
Remember - you do not have to tell anyone who you have voted for.
Polling stations are open from 7am until 10pm on election day. Please make sure that you allow plenty of time to receive your ballot paper.
Various signs will be displayed in the polling station, including:
The Notice/s of poll - listing the election/s, candidate names and any political party that they may be standing for
Directions for the guidance of voters, including basic instructions on the voting procedure and the number of candidates that you are allowed to vote for
An example of a large print ballot paper
In some polling stations there may also be lists of street names. These lists are usually displayed when the number of electors in the polling district is very large and where two or more teams of staff will have been set up to issue ballot papers (thereby reducing the time you may have to wait to receive your ballot paper). When you go to the polling station, check these lists and find your street name. This will then tell you which members of staff to approach and ballot paper issue point you need to go to.
Is polling secret?
Election regulations are designed to ensure voter secrecy and to guard against people impersonating others at the polling station. Representatives of the political parties (also known as "Tellers") who stand outside the polling station are gathering information on behalf of the parties. They have no official status and, you do not have to speak to them unless you want to. If they ask you for your poll card, you do not have to give it to them if you do not want to.
Tellers often ask for poll cards so that they can verify elector numbers and elector turn-out AFTER election day, and in this respect some people consider them to be a useful check in the democratic process, but no political party can ever tell how you voted if you do decide to give your poll card to them.
If you feel troubled by any person standing outside a polling station, please report this to the presiding officer in charge in the polling station itself.
Your ballot paper
The election rules (Representation of the People Acts and the various regulations and rules made under those Acts) require that ballot papers shall be consecutively numbered. They also require that a note should be made (on a document known as a counterfoil) by the Presiding Officer of the ballot paper number and the elector number of the person to whom it was issued. This happens in the polling station in front of the voter. No other information is recorded on the counterfoil. This practice dates from the Ballot Act 1872 and was introduced to avoid the possibility of counterfeit ballot papers being used and to assist with the detection of alleged fraud.
The ballot papers are numbered to prevent copies of official ballot papers being placed in the ballot box. The elector number is noted of the person receiving the ballot paper so that in the event of personation or a similar fraudulent act, it is possible for the offence to be traced by the police.
There is a safeguard to prevent the elector number and the ballot paper being linked. At the close of poll, the counterfoils are placed in sealed envelopes by the presiding officer/s at the polling station. The sealed envelopes and the sealed ballot boxes are then taken to the Returning Officer at the count venue. After the count has taken place, the used and unused ballot papers are sealed in separate bags and kept securely for 12 months.
The only occasion when the sealed packets can be opened is on the order of a judge as a result of an election petition or in relation to an investigation of an alleged election offence. This procedure happens very rarely - but is essential to safeguard against corrupt and illegal election practices. If there is no challenge, the ballot papers are destroyed after 12 months. Because of the above safeguards, it is virtually impossible for any person to be in a position to marry up the elector numbers and the ballot papers themselves. For that reason, voters can remain confident that the ballot remains secret.
A similar but equally secure system is in place for postal votes.
Public accountability and inspection of the Marked Register of Electors
The opportunity by any person to inspect (by appointment only) the copy of the Register of electors that was used at each polling station (known as the marked copy), provides a general check of the records information as to who exercised the right to vote at a particular election. Although the availability of this information means that the names of those that voted are not secret, it does not mean that it was not a secret ballot. The secret that remains is the detail/s of the candidates for whom each elector voted.
Ballot paper numbers are not recorded on the marked Register of electors. The marked Register merely indicates who received a ballot paper at an election and is a separate document to that known as the counterfoil.
Marked registers are available for 12 months from the date of the election.
If you require this information in an alternative format or language please contact Electoral Services on 01684 272025 and we will do our best to help.