First time voters guide

Selfies, disabilities, cats and doggies … voting throws up all sorts of questions and issues, but our step-by-step guide for first-timers lets you know exactly what to do

Where is my local polling station?

To find out where your polling station is, visit this website, enter your postcode, and it will tell you not only where your polling station is, but also what candidates you can vote for and whether you need your polling card. Handy, hey?

There will be a list of candidates standing in your ward (local area). Candidates will be ordered alphabetically. Each candidate will also have the name of the party they are standing for, or whether they are an independent candidate.

To find out the ward you are in, and who is standing here, see here.

Mark your ballot paper with an X – not a tick – next to the candidate you would like to vote for (although what really matters is that the voting intention is clear, so the ballot probably wouldn’t be rejected if you did a tick).
You must vote for only one candidate.

Important: do not identify yourself in any way on the ballot paper or your vote will be voided. Voting is anonymous.

How do I make my vote?

Watch this helpful video guide on the three ways to vote: voting in person, voting by post or voting by proxy.

On polling day

On polling day, you’ll need to go to your polling station. It’s usually a public building like a nearby school or village hall, but polling stations have popped up in all kinds of places like pubs and even lifeboat stations.

Polling stations are always open from 7am until 10pm. As long as you’re in the queue to vote by 10pm, you’ll be allowed to vote.

Inside the polling station, there will be people who are working for the Returning Officer from your local council. There’s usually one person in charge who is called the Presiding Officer, and a few other people called Poll Clerks.

When you enter the polling station, tell them your name and address so they can check that you’re on the electoral register. You can show them your poll card if it helps, but you don’t need your poll card to vote. They will cross your name off their list so they know who has voted, and hand you your ballot paper.

Take your ballot paper into a polling booth. These are private, screened areas designed so that no one else can see how you vote. If it’s busy, you may have to wait for a free booth. Make sure you give people plenty of space, so everyone can cast their vote in secret.

What if I make a mistake?

Don’t panic. It’s fine. As long as you have not put your ballot in the ballot box, you can fix this. Just explain to a member of staff what you have done and they will issue you with a new ballot.

Can I purposely spoil my ballot paper?

You can but…your vote won’t be counted. Usually in local elections turn out numbers are relatively low so if you think there’s no point in voting, this is where you can absolutely make a difference.
There have been numerous occasions where there has been an equal number of votes for candidates representing different parties. Where there’s been a number of re-counts and the numbers don’t changed - a decision can be made by drawing straws or even a flick of a coin. The more people that vote the less likely this will happen.

How do I spoil my ballot paper?

There has in the past been some confusion as to how one spoils a ballot, but basically if you write anything on the ballot aside from a clear voting intention in a box next to a candidate’s name, the ballot will be seen as spoilt.

When are polling stations open?

In the UK, elections are held on Thursdays. Polls are open from 7am in the morning until 10pm at night.

If I can’t get to a polling station, can someone else vote for me?

It is possible to gain an emergency vote - this is called by proxy. This means someone else can vote for you. You can apply for an emergency vote by proxy until 5pm on polling day, but only for two reasons: a medical emergency, or a last-minute work commitment. You must fill out emergency proxy vote forms.

I have disabilities – will the polling station make voting accessible?

Tactile voting apparatus will be available.

Disabled voters are entitled to support at stations, including low-level booths.

Can I discuss my vote in the polling station?

This is a big no-no as it might influence or unnerve fellow voters. If you want to discuss candidates or voting choices, do so outside the polling station – and if you want to hand out leaflets or other election material.

Can I take my pet?

You can. In fact, taking dogs to polling stations is so popular that the hashtag #DogsAtPollingStations has trended in recent elections.

It has become such a thing that this time around Twitter has teamed up with Dogs Trust to give the hashtag its very own emoji.

Is there a dress code?

No, and it is OK to wear garments that might obscure your face: for instance, hoodies or the niqab. However, party political clothing is not recommended as it could be viewed as intimidating to voters.

Can I take a photograph of me voting?

It is illegal to expose how another person voted.

The Electoral Commission requests no photos to be taken inside a polling station. Better to take photos outside the polling station.

How can I share that I voted and I am proud of it?

You should be. Social media now offers many ways to assert that you have voted. However, though it is not illegal to announce how you have voted, again, it is illegal to share how another individual voted (under section 66 of the Representation of the People Act).

Who are those people hanging around outside the polling stations?

They are volunteers for political parties. They are called tellers. You have no obligation to speak to tellers, but they may ask you for your candidate number. This is because the tellers are trying to gauge how many people have voted and how many people they still need to encourage to the polls. Tellers are more likely in marginal seats.

How are the votes counted?

Sealed and empty ballot boxes are delivered to polling stations before voting starts. After voting has closed, counting begins. The counting is overseen by a returning officer and by the candidates and party officials. If a count is closed and a recount is requested, the returning officer will take the final decision on this. A tie often results in a recount.

Can my vote be discounted?

If a voter’s intention is unclear, the ballot may be voided. So it’s important to mark it correctly – but again, there will be instructions both on the paper and in the booth.