Elections 2021: What can’t I do in a polling station?


An election extravaganza takes place on Thursday across England, Scotland and Wales.

Millions of voters will elect thousands of people to power – including councillors, police commissioners, mayors – and one MP.

What are the dos and don’ts of going to vote?

How do I find my polling station?

If you’ve got a vote you should have received a polling card in the post.

This has your polling number and the address for where you cast your vote – your polling station.

To vote, you have to turn up at the polling station between 07:00 and 22:00 BST on 6 May.

You don’t have to bring your polling card when you vote, but it can speed the process up.

If your card hasn’t turned up and you don’t know where your polling station is, contact your local authority’s election office.

Will polling stations be Covid safe?

Expect to see extra signs, plastic screens, one-way systems and, of course, hand sanitiser.

Everyone is asked to wear a face covering inside the polling station.

However, the Electoral Commission says no-one will be turned away if they refuse to wear one.

Polling stations should have some spare coverings available if you forget to bring one.

Note: This lookup covers national elections in Scotland and Wales, the Hartlepool by-election, as well as council and mayoral elections in England and Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections in England and Wales. There may be parish council elections or council by-elections where you are. Check your local council website for full details.
Last updated: May 5, 2021, 14:56 GMT

Should I bring my own pen or pencil?

Voters are asked to bring their own pen or pencil, to keep the process as hygienic as possible.

But some pencils should be available in the polling station, for those who forget.

What if I cannot turn up on the day?

The deadline has now passed to apply for a postal vote, or a proxy vote, where someone else goes to the polling station on your behalf.

However, you can still apply for an emergency proxy vote. if one of the following has happened since the deadline:

  • Medical emergency
  • You are away for work
  • You’re self-isolating because of Covid

You can make the application any time up to 17:00 on polling day itself, by contacting your local council.

Can I take a selfie?

The Electoral Commission – which oversees UK elections – advises against this because it risks accidentally giving away how someone else (the person in the booth next to you, for example) voted, which is illegal.

But people are welcome to share photos taken outside a polling station “to encourage your friends and family to vote”.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionVoters can take photos outside polling stations but not inside.

Can I tell my social media followers how I voted?

Yes – but photographing the ballot paper is not allowed and the punishment for revealing how anyone else voted, even accidentally, is a fine of up to £5,000, or six months in prison.

So voters are advised not to update their social media accounts inside the polling station.

Can I spoil my ballot paper?

Some people deliberately spoil their vote – for example, by writing a message on the ballot paper as a protest.

These are recorded but do not count for or against any candidate.

Are pets allowed?

Animals, apart from assistance dogs, are not usually allowed in polling stations.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionPets are not usually allowed inside polling stations

Can I wear political clothing?

The Electoral Commission says there is nothing in law to prevent people wearing a slogan going into a polling station, with the intention of voting.

But they should leave immediately afterwards, as campaigning inside polling stations is not permitted.

Can I vote if I’ve been drinking?

People who are drunk can vote, unless they are disruptive.

Can I discuss the candidates?

Political discussion is banned inside polling stations.

Staff will intervene if they hear any chat about candidates or parties.

Can a friend come to help me?

They can, if they are registered to vote at your polling station – but they cannot enter the booth where you vote.

And if they are not registered there, the staff may decide to refuse them entry.

Can my children come?

Bringing children to the polling station is encouraged, because it is seen as educating them about democracy.

But a child is not allowed to mark your vote on the ballot paper.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionBringing children to the polling station is encouraged.

Can I have help if I am disabled?

The presiding officer can mark the paper for you, or a close adult family member or another eligible voter, such as a support worker, can accompany you.

People with a visual impairment can request a device that lets them mark their own ballot paper. A large-print version should also be available.

Polling stations are selected for accessibility. But if a voter cannot enter, the presiding officer may take the ballot paper to them.

For help, call the Electoral Commission on 0333 103 1928.

image copyrightGetty Images

Can I sign my ballot paper?

People occasionally sign their ballots – but if the name is identifiable, the vote will not count.

Is voting compulsory?

No – it is entirely up to you whether or not you vote.

Who counts the votes?

Local councils recruit the presiding officer and staff to conduct the ballot, count the votes and process the postal votes.

When will I know who won the election?

The first councils will be counted overnight into early Friday morning.

But making the process Covid-secure means the results will probably take much longer than usual – possibly as late as Monday in some areas.

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