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A guide to Polling Stations - the ‘dos and don’ts’

02 Jun 2017

Jonathan Pigford, Partner at Hay & Kilner, provides the ‘dos and don’ts’ for when you go to cast your vote.


Don’t take photographs

The Electoral Commission discourages photographs being taken inside a polling station so as to maintain the secrecy of the ballot as it would be illegal to reveal how someone else has voted.

The Electoral Commission says, “If a voter would like to highlight their participation in the elections, we suggest this is done outside the polling station before or after they vote.”

If someone was to reveal how someone else voted, there are strict penalties – a fine of £5,000 or six months in prison.

Don’t post/comment on social media

The Electoral Commission warns against posting comments on social media when inside the polling station – even if it’s about your own vote. It is a criminal act Under Section 66 of the Representation of the People’s Act to communicate information about the way someone has voted or is about to vote.

Don’t wear clothing with political slogans

Voters dressed in clothing depicting party slogans will not be allowed in polling stations as this may be intimidating. The rules are all about encouraging people to vote, according to Electoral Commission guidance.

Don’t wear a rosette

These are a definite no. The only people permitted to wear a rosette are the candidates and their polling agents.

Don’t talk about candidates when inside the polling station

Polling staff will stop people from discussing the merits of different candidates or parties as it may unsettle other voters. You’re not to ask someone about their vote as this will break the secrecy of the poll. Any debating must take place outside the polling station.

Don’t sign on the dotted line…

People who sign ballots where their name is identifiable will not have their vote counted. It will be rejected because the voter has revealed their identity and breached the rules of a secret ballot.

Spoilers and messages to politicians

There is a tradition of deliberately spoiling your ballot, showing your contempt for the candidates on offer. They are termed “rejected votes” and are included in the overall turnout. However, if you wish to vote for a candidate you should avoid writing comments in the margin as it might confuse the counters and lead to your vote being put in the rejected pile.

Alcohol/Drug use

Polling station staff cannot refuse a voter simply because they are drunk or under the influence of drugs. Only if the voter is disruptive will they be asked to return when they are sober.



Do cover your face if you wish

While polling station officers are on the lookout for people trying to vote twice by impersonating someone else, there is currently no requirement for voters to show their face.

As long as voters are able to confirm their name and address, they don’t need to show their face.

Do take your pets to the polling station

Dogs are allowed into the polling station as long as they don’t disrupt the vote. Polling staff typically advise that dogs have to be in an “accompanying” role rather than “free-range”. There would likely be an issue with someone who was unable to keep their dogs under control. There is no guidance on other animals, so any decision will be at the discretion of presiding officers.

Do listen to music

You are permitted to listen to music through headphones while waiting to vote, provided the music is not so loud that it will put others off. The headphones will need to be removed when a member of the polling staff confirm your name and other details. Loud telephone conversations will not be tolerated.

Use your own pen or pencil

You can use your own pen or pencil if you prefer it to the one provided in the voting booth.

Do take your children to a polling station

Your children are welcome to attend a polling station with you. However, they are not allowed to touch the ballot paper and if the group is too large, they may have to wait outside.

If you would like further guidance on the dos and don’ts of voting, please contact Jonathan Pigford on 0191 232 8345 or email: Jonathan.Pigford@hay-kilner.co.uk