Voting in the UK

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1. Overview

Before you can vote in UK elections or referendums you need to register to vote. Your name and address will then appear on the electoral register.

You can vote:

You can register at 16, but you can’t vote until you’re 18.

When there’s a local election coming up, you’ll be sent a poll card telling you where and when to vote.

Different elections use different voting systems. See the About my vote website for details on how voting systems work.


2. General elections

In a UK parliamentary general election, registered voters in every area of the country vote for an MP to represent them in the House of Commons. There are 650 geographical areas – these are called constituencies.

You can vote in a UK parliamentary general election if you’re registered to vote and:

  • aged 18 or over on polling day
  • a UK citizen, Commonwealth citizen or a citizen of the Irish Republic
  • not legally excluded from voting (eg because you’re in prison)

You can’t vote in a UK parliamentary general election if you are:

  • under 18
  • a member of the House of Lords
  • a European Union citizen (and not also a UK, Irish or Commonwealth citizen)
  • in prison (apart from remand prisoners)

You can find your local MP on the Parliament website.


3. Local elections

You can vote in a UK local government election if you’re registered to vote and:

  • aged 18 or over on polling day
  • a UK, Irish or a Commonwealth or European Union citizen living in the UK
  • not legally excluded from voting (eg because you’re in prison)

Voting in more than one local election

If you spend time living in 2 different local authority areas (eg because you’re a student), you may be able to vote in both.

If you want to register at 2 addresses, make 2 separate applications through the register to vote service. The local Electoral Registration Office will look at each application and tell you whether you’re allowed to register.

How local elections work

Local elections take place at least every 4 years. There are several types because local authorities are organised in different ways.

Depending on where you live, either:

  • all of the councillors are elected every 4 years
  • half of the councillors are elected every 2 years
  • a third of the councillors are elected every year for 3 years, with no elections in the 4th year

Numbers of councillors

This information is about numbers of councillors in England. Find information about councils in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The number of councillors in a particular area depends on the type of council and the number of people living in that area. The Local Government Boundary Commission for England keeps numbers under review to make sure that every voter has a vote of equal weight.



4. European elections

Elections for the European Parliament take place every 5 years. The last European elections were in May 2014.

There are 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), and 73 represent the UK. The UK is divided into 12 regions, and each region has between 3 and 10 MEPs.

You can find out who your MEPs are online.



5. Polling stations

Your council will send you a poll card just before an election telling you where and when to vote.

Polling stations are open from 7am to 10pm on polling day, and are usually public buildings like schools or local halls.

If you’re disabled, your local Electoral Registration Office can tell you about:

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

Every polling station must provide at least 1 large print display version of the ballot paper and a special device so that blind and visually impaired people can vote.

When you get to the polling station

You can take your polling card with you to show who you are, but you don’t have to.

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 other options you can vote for.

Filling in your ballot paper

  1. Take your ballot paper into a polling booth.
  2. Follow the instructions on the notices in the polling booth and on the top of the ballot paper to vote.
  3. Put it in the ballot box.

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

If you haven’t received a polling card but think you should have done, contact your local Electoral Registration Office.