I hope you find the following information about how to register to vote and how you can vote even if you can’t get to your polling station useful. This is not an official site, however, so if you are in doubt about any specific issues regarding your own situation and how or where to vote, it is best to contact your local council or the Electoral Commission.
Who can be on the electoral register?
In order to be on the electoral register you must be 16 or over (although you cannot vote until you are 18).
You must also be:
- A UK or Republic of Ireland citizen, or
- A Commonwealth citizen with leave to enter or remain in the UK or who does not require such leave, or
- A citizen of a European Union country living in the UK, or
- A citizen of the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man or a British Overseas Territory living in the UK
How do you join the electoral register?
In order to register to vote, you need to complete a form from your local council. Each council produces a new electoral register for December 1st each year and updates it most months in between.
The “annual canvass” is the operation for producing the new register each year, whilst “rolling registration” means the monthly updates in between times. It is a legal requirement to take part in the annual canvass (if you are entitled to be on the register) and you can use rolling registration to update records if you move during the year.
If your council asks you for electoral registration information and you either do not reply or give false information (e.g. leaving someone off the form), you can be fined £1,000.
There is also a special late registration deadline when an election is called, but given that paperwork can go astray or be delayed it is best not to leave it until the last minute to join the electoral register.
The Electoral Commission’s website About My Vote steps you through getting the right form to join the electoral register or you can get a form from the council. Legally, you do not have to use any particular form to apply to be on the electoral register, but using one of the official forms makes the process much easier (though one council, the London Borough of Havering, does not like taking Electoral Commission forms).
There is a special “anonymous registration” process that is available to some people, e.g. if you are separated from an abusive partner. Contact your local council to get details of this process if you believe you may qualify for it.
Which address do you register at?
You should register at your home address. University students can register at both their home address and their university address, but can only vote once for the same elected body or post.
What is the electoral register used for?
In order to vote at an election, you must be on the electoral register. Copies of the electoral register are also available to candidates and political parties and can be purchased by anyone else (e.g. commercial marketing firms).
The opted-out electoral register
You can opt-out from being on the version of the electoral register that can be purchased by anyone else. This version available for purchase is called the “edited version” of the electoral register and there is usually a simple tick box on electoral registration forms to be excluded from it.
The electoral register and freepost election addresses
However, even if you join the edited register, your details are still included in the version of the electoral register made available to candidates and political parties. This is so they can play their part in our democracy by knowing who is able to vote and contacting people to let them know about their policies and candidates.
In particular, this means that you may well receive items of election literature personally addressed to you, even if you opted for the “edited register”, especially in those elections where a “freepost” service is provided to candidates, which means that the Royal Mail will deliver one leaflet free to each elector on behalf of each candidate (though candidates have to pay their own printing costs).
Opting out from political contacts
You can ask any political party or candidate not to contact you, so if you get such a leaflet and don’t want any future contacts just get in touch with the relevant party or candidate.
Credit reference agencies and the electoral register
Credit reference agencies can use the electoral register to check whether people really live where they say they do. This is often an important part of the credit-checking process, so it is an extra incentive to be on the electoral register and at the right address. Credit reference agencies have access to the full electoral register; i.e. they can check your details even if you have opted out from the edited version.
Applying for a postal or proxy vote
Voting normally involves going in person to vote on polling day (almost always a Thursday). If this is not convenient for you, you can either vote by post or appoint someone else to vote on your behalf (which is called appointing a proxy or getting a proxy vote).
The Electoral Commission website steps you through getting the relevant form which then has to go to your local council.