Voting

Types of election, referendums, and who can vote

  • General election

  • Local government

  • Local mayors, Mayor of London and London Assembly

 

General elections

Elections to the UK Parliament usually take place every 5 years.

To vote in a general election you must:

  • be registered to vote 
  • be 18 or over on the day of the election (‘polling day’)
  • be a British, Irish or qualifying Commonwealth citizen
  • be resident at an address in the UK (or a British citizen living abroad who has been registered to vote in the UK in the last 15 years)
  • not be legally excluded from voting

There are 650 Members of Parliament (MPs) in the UK Parliament.

Register to vote

Check which elections you’re eligible to vote in.

        MPs are elected using the First Past the Post system. You vote once for a candidate in your constituency and the candidate with the most votes becomes your MP.

        You can find your local MPRead more about general elections on The Electoral Commission website.


Local government

Local government elections take place at least every 4 years. Not all local government elections take place at the same time.

Your local government will do one of the following:

  • elect all the local councillors every 4 years
  • elect half the local councillors every 2 years
  • elect one third of the local councillors every year for 3 years and hold no elections in the 4th year

To vote in a local government election you must:

  • be registered to vote  
  • be 18 or over on the day of the election (‘polling day’) (16 or over in Scotland)
  • be registered at an address in the area you want to vote in
  • not be legally excluded from voting


You must also be one of the following:

  • a British citizen
  • an Irish or EU citizen
  • a qualifying Commonwealth citizen 
  • a citizen of another country living in Scotland or Wales who has permission to enter or stay in the UK, or who does not need permission

Local government councillors in England and Wales are elected using the First Past the Post system. You vote for one candidate in your local area and the candidate with the most votes wins.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, councillors are elected using the Single Transferable Vote system. You rank the candidates in order of preference.

When you can vote in more than one local election

If you live in 2 different local authority areas (for example because you’re a student), you may be able to vote in both areas.

You must register to vote in both areas. The local Electoral Registration Offices will check each application and tell you if you can register in both areas.

Read more about local government elections on The Electoral Commission website.  


Local mayors, Mayor of London and London Assembly

Elected local mayors

In some areas of England voters elect a mayor.

Check if your mayor is elected on your local council website.

Mayors are elected using the Supplementary Vote system. You make a first and second choice when you vote.

If no candidate gets more than 50% of the first choice votes, all except the top 2 candidates are eliminated. If your first choice candidate is eliminated, and your second choice is for one of the top 2, then your second choice is counted.

To vote for a local mayor, you must be eligible to vote in local elections.

Mayor of London and London Assembly

The Mayor of London makes decisions on behalf of the people of London. The 25 London Assembly Members make sure the Mayor’s decisions are in the interests of the public.

To vote in the London Mayor and London Assembly elections you must:

  • be registered to vote  
  • be 18 or over on the day of the election (‘polling day’)
  • be a British, Irish, qualifying Commonwealth or EU citizen 
  • be resident at an address in Greater London
  • not be legally excluded from voting


The Mayor of London is elected using the Supplementary Vote system. You make a first and second choice when you vote.

If no candidate gets more than 50% of the first choice votes, all except the top 2 candidates are eliminated. If your first choice candidate is eliminated, and your second choice is for one of the top 2, your second choice is counted.

London Assembly members are elected using the Additional Member system. You vote once for your constituency member and once for a London-wide representative.

There are 14 constituency members and 11 London-wide members.

Read more about the Mayor of London and London Assembly elections on The Electoral Commission website.

How to vote

You need to be registered to vote before you can vote in UK elections or referendums.  

If you’re eligible, you can vote in person on the day of the election at a named polling station. You can also apply for a postal or proxy vote instead.

Find out about voting safely during coronavirus (COVID-19).  

Ways of voting

You can vote:

  1. in person at a polling station
  2. by post
  3. by asking someone else to vote for you (voting by proxy)

You cannot vote online in any elections.

Eligibility to vote

You can vote when you’re:

  • 18 years old in England and Northern Ireland
  • 16 years old in Scottish Parliament and local elections (and other elections when you’re 18)
  • 16 years old in Welsh Parliament elections (and other elections when you’re 18)

Elections you can vote in

Different elections have different rules on who can vote.

  • in person at a polling station

You vote in person at a polling station (usually in a public building, such as a school or local hall).

Your poll card

You’ll be sent a poll card just before an election telling you when to vote and at which polling station. You can only vote at the polling station location on your card.

If you have not received a poll card but think you should, contact your local Electoral Registration Office.

You can still vote if you’ve lost your card.

When you can vote

Polling stations will be open from 7am to 10pm on the day of an election (‘polling day’).

When you get to the polling station

Give your name and address to the staff inside the polling station when you arrive.

You’ll be given a ballot paper containing a list of the people, parties or options you can vote for.

ID you need to bring

If you live in England, Wales or Scotland you do not need to bring any identification to vote.

You will need to show photo ID to vote in Northern Ireland (your passport, driving licence, Electoral Identity Card or certain kinds of Translink Smartpass).  

You do not have to take your poll card with you.

Filling in your ballot paper

Follow the instructions on the notices in the polling booth and on the top of the ballot paper to vote.

Voting if you have a disability

If you have a disability, your local Electoral Registration Office can tell you about:

  • physical access, for example wheelchair ramps and disabled parking spaces
  • low-level polling booths
  • equipment for voters with a visual impairment

Every polling station must provide at least one large print display version of the ballot paper and a special tactile voting device (TVD) to help people with sight loss.

  • Voting by post

You must apply for a postal vote if you want to vote by post, for example if:

  • you’re away from home
  • you’re abroad and want to vote in England, Scotland or Wales

You do not need to give a reason unless you’re voting in Northern Ireland.

Apply for a postal vote

You can apply to vote by post for one of the following:

  • a single election on a specific date
  • a specific period if you want to vote in England, Scotland or Wales
  • permanently

Arrange to vote by proxy if there are under 2 weeks until election day and you have not made arrangements.

There’s a different form to apply to vote by post in Northern Ireland.

Change where your postal vote card is sent

Make a new application for a postal vote if you move house or you’ll be away from home when the postal vote is sent out.

There’s a different form for Northern Ireland.

Completing and returning your postal vote

When voting by post, you should:

  • mark your vote on your ballot paper in secret
  • fill in the postal voting statement
  • put the ballot and statement in the envelope provided
  • seal the envelope yourself

Post your ballot back as quickly as possible to make sure it’s counted.

If you’re too late to post your ballot paper

Take it to your local polling station by 10pm on election day, or Electoral Registration Office before they close.

In Northern Ireland, take it to your local Area Electoral Office before they close.

Replace a lost or damaged ballot paper

Your ballot paper needs to clearly display your details and voting choice. If it has been damaged you need to get another one.

You can either:

  • ask your local Electoral Registration Office to post a replacement
  • collect a replacement from your local Electoral Registration Office up to 5pm on election day (or the day before in Northern Ireland)
  • You cannot vote at a polling station if you registered to vote by post but your ballot paper was lost or damaged.

  • Voting by proxy

If you’re unable to vote in person you can ask someone to vote on your behalf. This is called a proxy vote.

You can only apply for a proxy vote under certain circumstances, including:

  • being away on polling day
  • having a medical issue or disability
  • not being able to vote in person because of work or military service

Your proxy should be someone you trust to vote on your behalf. You’ll need to tell them which candidate (or referendum outcome) you want to vote for.

How to apply for a proxy vote

Apply for a proxy vote using a paper form. You need to send it to your local Electoral Registration Office.  

Usually, you need to apply for a proxy vote at least 6 working days before election day if you want to vote in England, Scotland or Wales.

There’s a different form to apply to vote by proxy in Northern IrelandApply at least 14 working days before election day.

Apply for an emergency proxy vote  

If the proxy vote deadline has passed you may be able to apply for an emergency proxy vote if you both:

  • cannot vote in person because of your employment or a disability
  • became aware of this reason after the proxy deadline

You can apply until 5pm on the day of the election. Fill in a paper form to:

An ‘appropriate person’ (for example your employer or a doctor) must sign the application form. Send it to your local Electoral Registration Office.

You can also apply for an emergency proxy vote if you or your proxy need to self-isolate because of COVID-19.  

How long your proxy vote is for

You can apply to vote by proxy:

  • for a single election on a specific date
  • for a specific period if you want to vote in England, Scotland or Wales
  • permanently

Who can act as a proxy

You can ask anyone to act as your proxy – as long as they:

  • are registered to vote
  • are allowed to vote in the type of election taking place
  • can vote in the polling station stated on your poll card

If they cannot get to your polling station, they will need to contact your local Electoral Registration Office to arrange to cast their proxy vote by post.

 

Change or cancel your proxy vote

To change who acts as your proxy or to start voting in person, contact your local Electoral Registration Office.  

If you want to vote by post instead, complete a postal vote application.  

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