How to vote in the 2021 May elections and where to find your local polling station across the UK

Local elections will take place this Thursday, May 6, with around 48 million people eligible to vote, following a year’s delay due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As a result of this postponement, there will be a bigger number of positions contested in 2021, the largest since the local government reorganisation in 1973.

In England, you may be asked to vote for local councillors, a police and crime commissioner, or your area’s mayor.

While in Scotland and Wales, people will have the chance to elect MPs to their devolved parliament – Holyrood in Scotland and the Senedd in Wales.

With more than 5,000 positions of power at stake, here is everything you need to know about voting. 

Who is eligible to vote in a UK local election?

To vote in a UK local election a person must be registered to vote and also:

  • 18 or over (16 in Scotland and Wales)
  • be a British citizen, a qualifying Commonwealth citizen or a citizen of the European Union
  • be a resident in the UK
  • not be subject to any legal incapacity to vote

In the UK, Commonwealth and Irish citizens enjoy the same civic rights as British citizens, namely:

  • the right to vote in all elections (i.e., parliamentary, local, referendum and European elections) as long as they have registered to vote (they must possess valid leave to enter/remain or not require such leave on the date of their electoral registration application).
  • the right, unless otherwise disqualified, to stand for election to the British House of Commons as long as they possess indefinite leave to remain or do not require leave under the Immigration Act 1971 to enter or remain in the UK.
  • the right, if a qualifying peer or bishop, to sit in the House of Lords.
  • eligibility to hold public office (eg as a judge, magistrate, minister, police constable, member of the armed forces, etc).

The following cannot vote in a UK local election:

  • anyone other than British, qualifying Commonwealth or European Union citizens
  • convicted persons detained in pursuance of their sentences (though remand prisoners, unconvicted prisoners and civil prisoners can vote if they are on the electoral register)
  • anyone found guilty within the previous five years of corrupt or illegal practices in connection with an election.

Although members of the House of Lords cannot vote in general elections, they can vote at elections to local authorities, devolved legislatures and the European Parliament.

Likewise, while EU citizens cannot vote in general elections in the UK, they can vote at elections to local authorities, devolved legislatures and the European Parliament.

How do I vote and when is the deadline?

You can vote in person at your local polling station on May 6, or if you can’t attend on the day; by post or by proxy (nominating someone to vote on your behalf).

The deadline to register to vote in person closed on April 19, while the deadline to register for a postal vote closed a day later on April 20.

If you want to vote in person you can’t just turn up to any polling station – you have to go to the one you’re assigned to. 

Your polling card, which you will have received through the post, is the easiest way to find out where you are registered to vote. It will include the name and address of your designated polling station. 

If you’ve not received your polling card but you know you have registered, give your local authority a ring to check. You can find the contact details by using the postcode finder tool on the About My Vote website.

If you’re completing a postal vote, it needs to be with your local council by 10pm on polling day to be counted.

If you do not post your ballot papers and postal voting statement in time for them to arrive by polling day, you can deliver it by hand on polling day. This can be at any polling station in your local council or to your area’s Electoral Registration Office.

The electoral services team at your local council may also accept a scanned copy of your form by email, but you should check with them first.

The deadline to register for a proxy vote was April 27, although emergency proxy votes will be available up until 5 pm on election day if voters need to self-isolate due to Covid-19.

How do I cast a vote in person, and will it be Covid-secure?

Step one: Go to your local polling station

Polling stations will be required to make voting Covid-secure, and social distancing will be in place. You will also likely need to wear a face mask whilst casting your vote.

Voters are encouraged to bring their own pens or pencils – and those who have been shielding to vote by post.

If you need assistance getting to the polling station, contact your electoral registration office to find out if they can help. You can also ask to have a companion with you when you vote, or staff in the polling station may be able to help you.

Upon arrival, tell the staff inside the polling station your name and address so they can check that you are on the electoral register. You don’t need to take your polling card with you, but many people do.

Polling station staff are representatives of the (Acting) Returning Officer and should act impartially at all times. 

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