Polling station rules – don’t get caught out on election day | UK News

Voting is a simple process – but it’s also a serious one, with strict rules in place to make sure the election is fair. 

Wondering whether you can bring your own pen, your dog, or your favourite political party sweatshirt to the polling station?

Sky News has reviewed the rules around election day so you don’t get caught out.

Do I need ID?

Yes. This one bears repeating because it is the first general election where you must bring photo ID to the polling station.

There are 22 different types of ID you can use – you can find a list in our full guide to the voter ID rules.

The ID can be out of date, as long as it still looks like you and the name is the same one used to register to vote.

Those who don’t have any of the accepted forms of ID are able to register for a Voter Authority Certificate – though the deadline for this has passed.

Can I bring my dog (or cat)?

File pic: Reuters

Given the popularity of dogs at polling stations, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were honoured guests on election day.

But actually, assistance dogs are the only pets that are guaranteed entry to polling stations.

The rest of the time, it’s up to polling station staff whether they allow dogs (or cats) inside – and according to advice from the Electoral Commission they are not normally allowed in as they can disturb voters.

Pet charity the Blue Cross has published guidelines on taking your pup to vote, and says you should check with the venue in advance.

A cat waits for its owner to vote in Burnham
A cat waits for its owner to vote in Burnham

What about children?

Children are welcome at polling stations, and can go to the polling booth with their parents or carer.

However, they must not mark the polling card.

Can I take a selfie?

You should not take any photos – including selfies – inside the polling station.

That is because it is against the law to share how someone has voted, is about to vote, or the unique ID ballot paper number – all of which could end up in shot with photos taken inside the polling station.

Breaking that law could mean you’re landed with a fine of up to £5,000, or six months in prison.

You and your dogs are welcome to take photos outside the polling station.

Does that mean I can’t use my phone in the polling station?

A sign telling voters to switch off their phones on the door of a polling station. Pic: Reuters
Polling stations can set their own rules around mobile phone use – but must allow them to be used for accessibility purposes. Pic: Reuters

You can use your phone inside the polling station – including in the voting booth, for example, if you need to use the torch or an app to help you read the ballot paper.

It’s up to the returning officer – the person in charge of the polling station – to set that venue’s rules around mobile phone use and train staff accordingly.

You will need to remove headphones when giving your name, address, and ID to staff, and if you’re having a loud phone conversation you can expect to be told to be quiet.

Can I vote if I’ve been drinking?

A pub being used as a polling station. Pic: Reuters
Pubs are sometimes used as polling stations – although with the bar closed. Pic: Reuters

Voting while drunk is not against the law.

However, if you’re suspected of being incapacitated by alcohol or drugs, you may be asked questions by the staff in charge.

If they are unhappy with your answers, you could be turned away until you’ve sobered up.

Can I discuss who I am voting for?

Political discussion is not allowed inside and immediately around the polling station in case it influences other voters.

If you’re heard talking about the candidates, parties or who you’re voting for by polling station staff, you will be asked to stop.

Can I spoil my vote?

Yes – if you don’t want it to be counted.

Counting staff holds a spoilt ballot paper at a counting centre in Glasgow, Scotland, May 5, 2016. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne
A count assistant holds a spoilt ballot paper at a counting centre in Glasgow. Pic: Reuters

Spoilt ballot papers are a way for voters to express dissatisfaction with the choice of candidates or political parties.

Spoilt votes are declared invalid, and the number of blank and spoilt votes is announced along with other election results.

Spoiling your vote could mean voting for every candidate or none at all or writing or drawing on the ballot paper.

However, be careful about marking anything besides a cross on your ballot paper if you want your vote counted.

You should not sign your ballot paper. If your name is identifiable, your vote will not count as it needs to be anonymous.

Do I have to vote?

You do not have to vote by law – it is your choice to do so or not.

Can I wear political slogans while voting?

There is nothing to stop you from wearing clothing with a political slogan while voting, but campaigning is not allowed in polling stations, so you must leave immediately after voting.

Can I wear a face covering?

You can wear a face covering, including a veil for religious reasons or a face mask, but you may be asked to briefly remove it so staff can check the photo ID you’re using is really you.

You can ask to have your ID checked in private or for it to be done by a female staff member.

Read more:
The ultimate guide to the general election
How to vote if you’re away on election day

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Can I use my own pen?

Pencils will be provided for people to cast their vote – but if you’ve got a lucky pen, you’re welcome to bring your own.

Pencils are used for practical reasons, according to the Electoral Commission – with ink pens, there’s the risk they may run out or the ink smudges on the ballot paper, potentially leading to it being rejected if it appears spoilt.

Can I go to a polling station if I’ve not registered to vote?

You can only go inside a polling station if you are registered to vote at that station.

Staff at the door will ask for your name, address, and ID before you are given your ballot papers and proceed to a voting booth.

Can I have help if I am disabled?

You can take another adult into the polling booth if you are disabled and need help voting.

This is where there is an exception to the rule only allowing voters registered at that polling station to enter.

Anyone over the age of 18 can help you vote. You can also ask polling station staff for help.

Measures to make voting accessible should also be in place, including providing a tactile voting device for blind or partially sighted voters, having a low-level polling booth, and displaying a large-print version of the ballot paper.

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