Return to The Electoral Commission Homepage

Guidance for (Acting) Returning Officers administering a UK Parliamentary election in Great Britain

The following guidance has been produced to support (Acting) Returning Officers ((A)ROs) in Great Britain in planning for and delivering a UK Parliamentary election. It has been written to cover both general and by-elections.

It has been developed in close consultation with colleagues across the electoral community including the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE), the Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA), the UK Electoral Coordination and Advisory Board (ECAB), the Elections, Registration and Referendums Working Group (ERRWG), the Electoral Management Board of Scotland (EMB), and the Welsh Electoral Practitioners Working Group (WEPWG).

It reflects the (A)RO’s legal obligations and what we, and colleagues across the electoral community, believe that (A)ROs should expect of their staff in preparing for and delivering UK Parliamentary elections.

At a UK Parliamentary election in England and Wales the administration of the election is the responsibility of the (A)RO, who is normally a senior officer of the local authority.1  

In Scotland, there is no office of (A)RO. Instead, the election is administered by the RO, who is the local government RO or, in the case of a constituency that crosses local authority boundaries, the local government RO listed in an Order made by the Secretary of State.2

Throughout our guidance for elections across Great Britain we use the term (Acting) Returning Officer or (A)RO to refer to the duties normally undertaken by the Acting Returning Officer in England and Wales, and by the Returning Officer in Scotland.

How to use the guidance

The guidance is directed towards the (A)RO and the duties they carry out. As these duties may, in practice, be carried out by deputies and/or appointed staff, we use the term ‘you’ throughout this guidance to mean the (A)RO and whoever is carrying out the (A)RO’s functions on their behalf. 

Throughout this guidance we use ‘must’ to refer to a specific legal requirement and ‘may / should’ for recommended practice.

Where the guidance is different for by-elections or where the (A)RO needs to consider cross-boundary scenarios, the information will be contained in an expanding section. This means that next to the relevant heading there is an icon with a + which will expand to show the relevant guidance.

Guidance to support ROs with other types of election is also available.

You can also access Guidance for Candidates and Agents.

To help you use this guidance we have produced a Q&A document that should answer any initial queries you may have. 

Updates to our guidance

Date of updateDescription of change
February 2024

Updates to guidance to include further considerations when determining absent vote applications

New and updated guidance to reflect the postal vote handing in process

November 2023Updates throughout the guidance to include Tranche 2 provisions of the Elections Act 2022
October 2023

Updates to include new guidance on what to consider when determining absent vote applications now that verification of identity is required and applications can be determined up to and including the day of poll

Returning Officer and (Acting) Returning Officer

This section of the guidance covers the appointment of the Returning Officer and (Acting) Returning officer as well as the roles and responsibilities for those appointed to this post.

It also contains guidance on the consequences of the breach of official duty and the legislative powers available to the (A)RO to use in certain circumstances.  

Additionally, this section also contains guidance on the skills and knowledge that is expected to be required of an (A)RO. 

Finally, it provides a detailed list of the relevant legislation that the guidance has been written to reflect, and which an (A)RO should be familiar with. 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Returning Officer and (Acting) Returning Officer appointment

England and Wales

At a UK Parliamentary election in England and Wales, the Returning Officer (RO) is a largely ceremonial position. Most duties of the RO are discharged by the (Acting) Returning Officer ((A)RO) who is normally a senior officer of the local authority.

Appointment of the RO

In a borough constituency contained in a district, the mayor or chairman of the local authority is the RO. In a county constituency, the RO is the Sheriff of the County. In areas where the constituency overlaps county or district borders, the RO is designated by the Secretary of State. See below for an explanation of the two types of constituencies.1

Duties of the RO

It is for the RO to receive the writ directing that a UK Parliamentary election is to be held. However, an RO can appoint a deputy for the purposes of receiving the writ.2  

The RO may also reserve for themselves the duties in connection with endorsing and returning the writ, as well as declaring and giving public notice of the result. In that case, they must give written notice to you, as the (A)RO. The notice must be given in writing by the day after the receipt of the writ and needs to specify which duties the RO wishes to reserve for themselves.3 The notice is not prescribed.

You should contact the RO at an early stage in your planning to ensure they are aware of their duties in connection with the role and to discuss whether or not these duties will be delegated.

Appointment of (Acting) Returning Officer

In a constituency for which the chairman of a district council or the mayor of a London borough is the RO, the Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) appointed by that council is the (A)RO.

In the case of any other constituency in England and Wales, the ERO for one of the local authorities covered by the constituency will be designated as (A)RO by an order made by the Secretary of State.4  

Scotland

In Scotland, there is no RO with a ceremonial role. The RO is the person responsible for administering the election. The RO for a UK Parliamentary election in Scotland is the same person who has been appointed RO for the election of councillors in the local authority in which the constituency is situated. Where a constituency crosses local authority boundaries, the Secretary of State will direct which local authority RO is the RO for the UK Parliamentary election.5  

We use the term (Acting) Returning Officer or (A)RO in relation to the duties undertaken by the Acting Returning Officer in England and Wales and the Returning Officer in Scotland. Any references to deputy throughout this guidance should be read as depute for elections in Scotland.

Boundaries and constituencies

There are two types of constituency: county and borough (or burgh in Scotland). In this guidance the term borough will be used and should be read as burgh for constituencies in Scotland.

Typically, borough constituencies are mainly urban while county constituencies are mainly rural. Legislation for England,6 Wales7 and Scotland8  sets out whether a constituency is a county or borough constituency.

UK Parliamentary elections are run on UK Parliamentary constituency boundaries. Constituencies can be coterminous with the areas of local authorities but many comprise only part of the area, while others cross one or more local authority boundaries.

While you are responsible for delivering the election for your constituency as a whole, in practice, if any part of the constituency falls outside your local authority, you will need to consider what impact this will have on your processes and whether you will need to delegate some of your functions to a senior officer at the other local authority. You should liaise closely with the ERO and election staff at the relevant local authority/authorities in order to identify any possible issues and how these will be addressed. You should seek their advice and assistance, where necessary, as they will be more familiar with those areas.

Insurance

As you are personally liable for the conduct of the election you should ensure that you have insurance cover and that it is up-to-date. You should be prepared to demonstrate robust planning and decision-making processes in the event of any challenge to the election and a claim against the insurance policy.

The team at your council dealing with insurance may be able to help determine what existing cover is in place and available, and to provide advice as to whether it should be extended.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

(Acting) Returning Officer - role and responsibilities

As (A)RO, you play a central role in the democratic process. Your role is to ensure that the election is administered effectively and that, as a result, the experience of voters and those standing for election is a positive one. You should set out at an early stage what you want to achieve and what success would look like for you. You must also consider accessibility for voters at polling stations. Our guidance on assistance with voting for disabled people provides further information.

As (A)RO you are personally responsible for the conduct of the UK Parliamentary election, including:

  • receiving the writ (where the RO has not reserved this duty)
  • publishing the notice of election
  • administering the nomination process
  • printing the ballot papers
  • publishing the notice of poll, statement of persons nominated and notice of situation of polling stations
  • the provision of polling stations
  • appointing Presiding Officers and Poll Clerks
  • managing the postal voting process
  • verifying and counting the votes
  • declaring the result (where the RO has not reserved this duty)

Your duties as (A)RO are separate from your duties as a local government officer. As (A)RO you are not responsible to the local authority but are directly accountable to the courts as an independent statutory office holder.

While you can appoint one or more persons to discharge any or all of your functions as (A)RO, you cannot delegate your personal responsibility for delivering the election.1  You can find further information in our guidance on the appointment of deputies.

Cross-boundary constituencies

Where the constituency crosses local authority boundaries, to deliver your functions effectively, there will need to be a close working relationship between you and the respective ROs and their staff. While the responsibility for the provision of polling stations and polling station staff for the polls rests with you, as (A)RO, you should seek advice and assistance, as necessary, from the local government RO and their staff for the other local authority area who will be more familiar with that particular area. 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Breach of official duty and power to correct procedural errors

As (A)RO you are subject to breach of official duty provisions. This means that if you or your appointed deputies are, without reasonable cause, guilty of any act or omission in breach of official duty you (and/or they) are liable on summary conviction to an unlimited fine in England and Wales or, in Scotland, a fine not exceeding £5,000.1  

You have the power to take such steps as you think appropriate to remedy acts or omissions that arise in connection with any function of the elections and that are not in accordance with the rules.2  

This power allows you to correct procedural errors that are made by you, as (A)RO, an ERO, a Presiding Officer (or any deputies of any of these), or a person providing goods or services to you/them.3  

A procedural error refers to an error someone has made during the process of planning or delivering the election, which may affect the election process or result. For example, incorrect information being produced on poll cards or ballot papers, or postal or polling station ballot papers being issued in error or not issued when they should have been. The above examples are not exhaustive and you should contact your local Commission team for support and advice if you have think you may have made a mistake that could be corrected using this power.

Where you remedy an act or omission in full by using your power to correct a procedural error, you will not be guilty of an offence of breach of official duty.4  You should remember that the power to correct procedural errors does not enable you to recount the votes once the result has been declared.5

Last updated: 19 December 2023

(Acting) Returning Officer - skills and knowledge

You should have a working knowledge of the relevant legislation governing the conduct of the election. This means that, in addition to having a clear understanding of your statutory functions, you should have an overview of what the legislation contains and an understanding of how it affects the administration of the election, so that you can review, question where necessary, and quality-assure the whole process.

There are management responsibilities attached to your role. For example:

  • commanding the required staff and resources to deliver a well-run election
  • drawing in the necessary support, skills and expertise from across your own local authority
  • overseeing the planning, project management and risk management of the election and incorporating any lessons learnt from previous polls
  • identifying and overseeing any actions necessary to mitigate any issues arising
  • ensuring that staff are appropriately trained to deliver the roles required of them
  • supporting the staff administering the election and providing appropriate oversight of their work
  • providing direction to staff, monitoring progress and receiving regular feedback on activities
  • in the case of cross-boundary constituencies, seeking advice and assistance from the RO and staff at the other local authorities
  • if you are not also the ERO, maintaining an effective working relationship with them
  • maintaining an effective working relationship with your police Single Point of Contact (SPOC)
  • ensuring that election accounts are completed in a timely manner
Last updated: 19 December 2023

Relevant legislation

Relevant legislation

This guidance is based on, and should be read in accordance with, the requirements set out in the following legislation (as amended):

  • Representation of the People Acts 1983, 1985 and 2000
  • Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000
  • Representation of the People (England and Wales) Regulations 2001
  • Representation of the People (Scotland) Regulations 2001
  • Parliamentary Constituencies (Scotland) Order 2005
  • Electoral Administration Act 2006
  • Parliamentary Constituencies and Assembly Electoral Regions (Wales) Order 2006
  • Returning Officers (Parliamentary Constituencies) (England and Wales) Order 2023
  • Political Parties and Elections Act 2009
  • Fixed Term Parliament Act 2011
  • Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013
  • Elections Act 2022
  • The Voter Identification Regulations 2022
  • The Assistance with Voting for Persons with Disabilities (Amendments) Regulations 2022
  • Representation of the People (Postal and Proxy Voting etc.) (Amendment) Regulations 2023

The list above includes only the legislation that makes provision in areas that this guidance relates to and that is currently in force.

Data protection legislation applies to the processing of all personal data. (A)ROs are personally responsible for ensuring that they comply with the requirements of data protection legislation. We have published guidance to support you in meeting your obligations under data protection legislation as it relates to your electoral administration responsibilities.

You are also required to have regard to the public sector equality duty contained in Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 when carrying out your duties.

As RO you are also required to have regard to the Electoral Commission's guidance on accessibility.

(A)ROs in Wales must also have regard to the Welsh Language Act 1993 and the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011, which require services in Wales to be delivered equally in English and in Welsh. 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Planning for the election

Planning for the election

A UK Parliamentary election is a significant event which brings with it its own particular challenges. Having robust plans in place are crucial to ensure you are able to deliver a well-run election. 

This section of the guidance covers the planning you will need to do to support the delivery of the election, including what your project plan should contain and how you should go about implementing it. 

It also contains guidance on staffing and staff training required, the specific venues needed for key processes, and support on the use of suppliers and contractors.  

Additionally, this section also contains guidance on identifying, monitoring and mitigating risk, and developing plans with the police to ensure the integrity of the election is maintained. 

Finally, it provides guidance on how you will need to plan for your public awareness activity to promote both voter registration and provide information to support electors voting, and engagement with candidates and agents. 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Planning for a UK Parliamentary election

Planning for a UK Parliamentary election

A UK Parliamentary election is a significant event which brings with it its own particular challenges. Your work to deliver a well-run poll will come under considerable scrutiny – from voters, candidates and political parties, and the media including through social media. 
This section seeks to highlight some of the particular aspects of context relevant to UK Parliamentary elections which you should ensure underpin all aspects of your planning.

Nature of a UK Parliamentary election

The election will likely be hard-fought, with many close contests in constituencies across Great Britain. The evolving political landscape could mean that even in places where there have traditionally been large majorities this may no longer be the case. The focus and circumstances could be different from anything experienced in your area before. 

There may be a significant number of new or less experienced political parties, candidates and agents who are unfamiliar with the practices and processes of an election and who will need your support to be able to participate effectively. 

Particularly given the possibility of close and hard-fought contests, you should be prepared for the integrity of this election to be scrutinised. Allegations and cases of electoral fraud will not only have a negative impact on the confidence of electors and campaigners, but they may also have a significant impact on your capacity to manage the election process effectively. It is therefore crucial that you put in place detailed and robust plans for monitoring and maintaining the integrity of the election in your area. You should work closely with the local police, ensuring you have in place good lines of communication for referring any allegations. For more information see our guidance on Maintaining the integrity of the election.

Scale and turnout

The level of preparatory work you will be able to undertake ahead of an election will vary depending on various factors, including whether it is a scheduled election or a by-election, the number of constituencies you are responsible for, and the level of combination of polls, if any. 

Many aspects of planning for the election will need to reflect assumptions as to the likely turnout for the poll. Establishing such assumptions at an early stage in the planning is of key importance as the scope for adjusting plans is limited at a later stage in the process.

The level of interest in a UK Parliamentary election is likely to be significant. You should plan for the possibility of a high turnout and, as a minimum, you should assume that the turnout will be not less than the turnout at the last equivalent polls.

As the poll becomes closer, the context will continue to evolve as the campaigns pick up pace. You will need to be prepared to react to events both within your constituency and more broadly which could have an impact on the effective delivery of the poll. This will include having robust contingency plans in place that you can turn to where required. If, for example, there are televised Leaders’ debates, these could conceivably result in a late surge of registration and absent voting applications, as well as having an impact on turnout and are likely to alter the traditional pattern of when completed postal votes are returned.

It is vital that appropriate provision of polling stations is made, with the numbers of stations and the numbers of staff within them sufficient to deal with the number of electors allocated to them. Although the legislation allows any voters in a queue at their polling station at 10pm to vote,1 the need to ensure that voters do not face undue delays in voting and can receive a high-quality service remains.

There is likely to be a media focus on the count and declaration of results and it will be important to manage expectations, not only of the media but of all with an interest in the results, by consulting on your proposed approach and subsequently communicating clearly what you expect to deliver and by when.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Learning from previous polls

Learning from previous polls

Before you start planning for the election, you should ensure that you have carried out a review of the last equivalent polls.

You should have carried out a thorough evaluation of all processes outlined in your project plan for the previous election, sought feedback from appropriate stakeholders, and produced a lessons learnt document to inform the project plan and risk register for future electoral events. You can find further information in our guidance on Reviewing the election.

The Commission has provided, as part of the template project plan, some sample objectives and suggested tools that will allow you to measure the extent to which the conduct of the election has been successful. The Commission has also provided an evaluation plan as part of the template project plan to assist you with the review process.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Developing plans for the election

Developing plans for the election

Project plan

You should prepare a project plan for the management of the election, treat it as a living document, keep it under regular review, and use it to monitor progress throughout. 

You should record all steps taken to prepare your plan in order to be able to provide an audit trail demonstrating your decision making process. You should be able to explain your decisions, and you should be prepared to do so in response to enquiries.

Your planning should ensure that:

  • voters are able to vote easily and know that their vote will be counted in the way they intended
  • it is easy for people who want to stand for election to find out how to get involved, what the rules are, and what they have to do to comply with these rules
  • everyone can have confidence in the management of the process and the result.

We have produced a template project plan that you may wish to use and adapt to fit your local circumstances. The template includes a number of example deliverables and tasks and you should also add in any others you identify as necessary, including ones specific to your local circumstances. 

 

Before starting your detailed planning, you should set out what you want to achieve and what success would look like. Your project plan should include clearly defined objectives and success measures to help you to measure the extent to which the conduct of the election has been successful as part of the template project plan.

 

You should ensure that your planning reflects the particular context and the nature of the election, including any changes to either legislation or the political landscape since the last general election. 

Your project plan should also identify the resources required. Once the fees and charges for the election have been set, you should reconcile projected costs for activities against the available budget. You should take all necessary steps to ensure that the local authority makes the necessary resources available to you to enable you to discharge your functions.

You also need to plan for the implementation of accessibility requirements in the polling stations. Your plans should include:

  • where accessibility needs to be considered
  • which barriers prevent equal access to voting for all persons
  • when you need to action any identified requirements; for example if you need to buy additional equipment - will it be received in time?
  • written notes of all considerations and actions taken in respect of any requested reasonable adjustments

You should also establish working relationships with experts at the local authority who should be able to offer support and advice on any reasonable adjustments needed.

A reasonable adjustment is a change that is made to reduce or remove a disadvantage in relation to someone's disability compared to non-disabled people. For example the removal of physical barriers or providing extra support for disabled persons.

You will need to review your plans to ensure they outline your processes and the data protection safeguards that you have in place, as they will provide a sound basis for you to meet your data protection obligations. Your council’s data protection officer will be able to help you meet your requirements and ascertain best practice. In particular, you will need to ensure that you are registered with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) as a data controller.

Further detailed guidance on data protection legislation, including registering as a data controller, is contained in our data protection guidance

Cross-boundary constituencies

If you are responsible for a constituency that crosses local authority boundaries, this will have practical implications for the management of key processes and you should reflect this in your planning. For example, you will be responsible for verifying signatures and dates of birth on postal voting statements returned by electors from one or more other local authority areas as well as from your own local authority area.

You will also be responsible for the provision and equipment of polling stations for the entire constituency and will need to decide how to manage this, including how you will ensure you have up-to-date information about the polling places that have been designated for use in other local authority areas.

You should liaise with the Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) and other relevant elections staff from the other local authority area(s) in your planning for the delivery of the poll.

Risk register

Risk register

You should also prepare a risk register which should also be a living document and kept under regular review. You should use your risk register to monitor the known risks and document any changes in risk, as well as ensuring that mitigating actions are identified and are being taken forward as appropriate. Your risk register should identify:

  • any difficulties and problems that may occur, and the actions taken to mitigate them
  • the seriousness of any risk by indicating both the likelihood of the risk occurring and the impact of the risk if it did occur 

We have developed a template risk register that you may wish to use. The template provides some example risks and suggestions for mitigating those risks. In addition to the risks identified in the template you should also identify any other risks, including ones specific to your local circumstances, and how you would mitigate those.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

The election timetable

The election timetable

We have published a non-date specific timetable for UK Parliamentary general elections and by-elections containing the statutory deadlines as set out in the election rules, which can be used to assist you in your planning. 

Date-specific timetables will be available on our website ahead of a general election.

 

You should ensure that you have contingency arrangements in place to enable you to respond and deliver a well-run election should a general election be called at short notice or a by-election arise. Once an election has been called you will need to review your plans and develop arrangements for the specific context and timetable of the poll.

Although they are ERO functions, further information on the Voter Authority Certificate and Anonymous Elector's Document application deadline can be found here for England, Scotland, and Wales

You can also find further information on the postal vote deadlines for England, Scotland, and Wales, and proxy vote deadlines for England, Scotland, and Wales in our ERO guidance.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Contingency planning

Your project plan should cover contingency planning and business continuity arrangements to enable all elements of the delivery of the election to continue in the event of any unexpected issues or disruptions. It is important to keep your contingency plans under review and to re-visit and amend them periodically during the run up to the poll. In doing so, you should consider the success and continuing appropriateness of any existing measures, identify any improvements and expose any gaps. 

You should also develop and maintain separate ongoing contingency plans to support the delivery of any unscheduled polls and by-elections that may occur.

Your contingency planning should include arrangements for the key areas of risk to the delivery of the election including:

  • Contractors

    • You should ensure that any suppliers you use – such as your EMS provider and any external print providers – have their own detailed business continuity plans in place. You should be satisfied that their contingency arrangements are sufficient to enable you to perform your duties in the case of any interruptions in service whilst fulfilling their own contractual duties. For more information see our guidance on Managing the procurement process for outsourced work.
  • Venues

  • Staffing

    • You should identify solutions to enable you to respond to a sudden staffing shortage. You should liaise with your HR department who can use their expertise to assist you with your planning. Other departmental managers within your local authority, or neighbouring authorities with reciprocal agreements in place may also be able to offer additional support in managing any requirements for temporary staff for specific parts of the electoral process. For more information see our guidance on Allocating sufficient staff resources and providing training and Flexible staffing.
  • IT

    • IT also plays a key role in many of the processes required to run the election. You should liaise with your IT services to ensure that you have adequate resources and contingency measures in place to allow you to perform your functions in the event of IT failure. This could include:
      • improving any measures allowing remote working capabilities 
      • having dedicated IT support during the election period
      • storing certain files and documents locally to enable them to be accessed more easily
      • sourcing any spare or alternative equipment that could be used as a backup, e.g. printers, laptops, routers
    • As part of your IT contingency planning, you should consider how you would produce Voter Authority Certificates in the event of IT or contractor failure.
  • Security

Security risks should also be considered as part of your contingency arrangements, setting out how you will continue to deliver the election in the event of theft, fraudulent activity, or any other security risk as identified in your risk register. You should liaise with the police and business continuity experts from your council to identify risks and put appropriate continuity measures in place.

Additional security guidance for elections for Returning Officers, candidates and agents is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/security-guidance-for-may-2021-elections.

Additionally, you should work with your IT services to understand what preventative measures are in place for your council to protect against cyber-threats, such as ransomware attacks. The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) advises that examples of preventative measures could include:

A White Paper on ransomware has been published from the NCSC and the National Crime Agency (NCA). The NCSC has also produced this guidance to help you assess the risks associated with IT and cyber-threats. 
 

Last updated: 22 March 2024

Planning for the delivery of key processes

Your project plan should include details on how you will deliver the key processes, including nominations, postal vote opening, voting in polling stations, and verification and count. It should also include how you will meet your duty to ensure that the polling station is accessible to all voters. Our guidance on understanding the barriers to voting provides further information to support your planning

Establishing realistic and robust assumptions can assist you in planning for delivering these key processes. Sound assumptions can provide useful evidence in explaining your decisions and you should therefore document them. Sharing the assumptions with stakeholders at an early stage will also allow them to be tested by others for robustness before the detailed planning has been completed and will help build confidence in your plans. 

Your planning should include assumptions covering expected:

  • turnout on polling day
  • turnout of postal voters
  • number of candidates 
  • availability of staff
  • speed and capability of staff
  • timings for completing each process

All plans and assumptions should be kept under regular review. This will help inform a realistic assessment of whether you will be able to deliver the overall plan, and whether and when it may be necessary to implement contingency plans. In all cases your plan should be flexible enough to allow you to respond if any of your assumptions change, covering what contingency actions you will take in such circumstances, and you should communicate with stakeholders throughout your planning process and be prepared to explain the reasons for the decisions you are taking. For key decisions, you should provide your reasons to stakeholders in writing.

Turnout

The expected turnout is a crucial factor in determining your planning and understanding what resources will be needed for most processes, in particular for polling stations and the verification and count. You should decide what the expected turnout is likely to be - taking into account the potential for late engagement and interest in the elections by which point scope for adjusting plans will be limited.

Your turnout estimate should be based on the assumption that, as a minimum, the turnout of voters will be not less than the turnout at the last equivalent polls. 

You should consider the impact of the changes to the postal vote application process and the impact of this on the volume of projected postal votes issued. 

You should also consider the patterns of return rates at previous polls and anything that might affect this. For example, televised Leaders’ debates at a general election could conceivably result in a late surge of registration and absent voting applications, altering the traditional pattern of when completed postal votes are returned, as well as have an impact on turnout. 

It is always safest to err on the side of caution when it comes to turnout as national and local developments can result in rapid changes to the actual turnout.

The resources you have available to conduct these processes, including numbers of staff and size of venue, will also be a relevant consideration to your planning. 

The number of parties and/or candidates

The number of parties and/or candidates standing at an election will also affect your planning considerations. For example, a large number of parties and/or candidates standing for election could mean that: 

  • ballot papers will be large and staff and voters may be slower handling them
  • more space will be required to accommodate the large ballot papers
  • the counting process for separating the votes into bundles for particular parties and/or candidates may be slower and take up more space
  • more space for candidates and agents may be required at the venues

In order to establish the likely number of parties and/or candidates you should:

  • make early contact with the political parties
  • monitor expressions of interest
  • monitor requests for nomination packs 

This information can then be taken into account when taking decisions on venues, count layout, necessary equipment and staffing requirements.

Staffing and timings

You should look at the number of staff and the processes used at previous elections and the number of ballot papers that were processed. An evaluation of the processes and staffing ratios, and when the various stages of the election process were completed, can then be used to inform decisions for these elections.

You should share these details and timings with stakeholders together with the assumptions that underpin them. 

Some stakeholders may hold expectations as to how quickly the processes can be completed which cannot be met in practice and this can lead to tension and frustration. To manage expectations, you should explain in some detail the processes involved and how long each stage is likely to take. For more on this, see our guidance on providing information on key election processes.

 
Last updated: 19 December 2023

Allocating sufficient staff resources and providing training

Your project plan should include identification of staffing requirements, including any necessary recruitment arrangements. It is essential that you identify the staff you will need and make the necessary appointments at the earliest opportunity.

You should seek advice from your council’s human resources department as necessary to ensure that the methods used to identify, recruit, employ and pay staff are robust and comply with all legal requirements.

Following an assessment of the performance of staff used at previous electoral events, you may wish to contact staff used previously at an early stage in the planning process to check their availability.

You will need to ensure that all staff are sufficiently trained to carry out their role(s). You should provide accessibility awareness training for all staff who interact with voters, including staff who support electoral services, to help improve their understanding of the needs of disabled voters and the importance of clear communication.

Our guidance on accessibility contains further information on ensuring that those working on the poll are aware of accessibility needs.

 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Establishing a project team

You should establish a project team to support you in carrying out your functions and in delivering a well-run election. In addition to yourself, your project team should include any appointed deputies, other elections staff members and the ERO, where this is not yourself.  
It should also include any other key personnel you consider appropriate such as:

  • your council’s communications team
  • HR colleagues
  • finance colleagues
  • IT
  • your contact centre/front of house staff
  • facilities staff
  • your local Police single point of contact (SPOC)

Cross-boundary constituencies

If you are responsible for a constituency that crosses local authority boundaries, your project team should include the ERO and other relevant elections staff members from the other local authority area(s) to enable effective liaison in the planning and delivery of the polls.

Establishing a project team

The project team should have a clear remit and understanding of the tasks to be carried out. You should prepare a schedule of meetings at the planning stage, and keep a record of each meeting as an audit trail of what was discussed and of any decisions made. Where possible, the (A)RO should chair any project team meetings.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Deputy (Acting) Returning Officer appointments

You should put in place deputy arrangements in case you are unable to act personally as (A)RO. You may appoint deputies to discharge all or any of your duties1 and this can be for a limited time period or until further notice.

Any appointed deputies should have the skills and knowledge required to carry out the functions they have been assigned such as assisting with the receipt of nomination papers, managing the postal vote process or adjudication of doubtful ballot papers.

You should confirm any appointments in writing and include details of the functions that the deputy is authorised to exercise on your behalf. The acceptance should also be made in writing.

A Deputy (A)RO is liable, in the same way as the (A)RO, for a breach of official duty.2  

Cross-boundary constituencies

If, as (A)RO, you are responsible for a constituency that crosses local authority boundaries you should consider whether you want to delegate some of your functions in full or in part to a senior officer at the other local authority/authorities.  

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Working with the Electoral Registration Officer (ERO)

If you are not also the ERO, you will need to liaise closely with them to obtain the relevant registration and absent voting data. You should ensure that data protection is considered and that any transfer of data is secure.

If there is a need for exchanging data electronically, you should agree the timings for the exchange of data and ensure that a test of the process is carried out ahead of the first scheduled transfer. 

There will be updates to the data at a number of points within the election timetable, as the ERO must publish two interim election notices of alteration as well as the final election notice of alteration.1 The Commission has published a timetable containing the dates related to the publication of these notices. 

Cross-boundary constituencies

If, as (A)RO, you are responsible for a constituency that crosses local authority boundaries you should liaise closely with the ERO and elections staff at the other local authority/authorities to put in place arrangements for the transfer and receipt of data, including any updates following the publication of the interim and final election notices of alteration. As part of developing these arrangements, you will need to establish how you will manage the data you receive in practice, including whether your software system can process data received from the other local authority/authorities, particularly where they use a different electoral management software system. Further information on practical issues relating to absent voting in cross boundary constituencies can be found in Absent Voting.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Appointing staff for specific election processes

You will need to appoint staff to help you undertake the various election processes. You should identify staffing requirements and put processes in place for recruiting the necessary staff. You should have access to a database of staff used at previous elections to help with this, and should also get advice from the HR team at your council on any external recruitment needs you may have.

Staff can also often be recruited from among council employees. Local authorities can permit their staff to work on the election, but they are not required to do so.

When identifying and recruiting staff, you should consider the skills appropriate to each role and use these to create a suitable job description. For example, those with experience working in finance could be recruited for the recording of unused ballot papers at the verification and count, or to work at postal vote opening sessions to record the daily totals.

As there is no age restriction for staff working on specific election processes, you could liaise with local further and higher education establishments to identify young people who could be recruited to work at polling stations or at the verification and count, which could also help to boost their engagement with the democratic process.

You can find more information on the payment of fees to staff in our section on Accounting for the election.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Appointing staff for the issuing and opening of postal votes

You should identify staffing requirements for your postal vote issuing and opening sessions. The following staff may be required: 

  • specially trained supervisory staff 
  • clerical staff 
  • IT staff

You must not appoint any person who has been employed by or on behalf of a candidate in or about the election.

You should be mindful of the demands on time the issue and opening of postal votes can place on core staff when considering your staffing needs.

Staffing for issuing of postal votes

There will be a number of additional postal vote issues in the immediate run-up to polling day to pick up those who have applied to vote by post and to register in the lead-up to the registration deadline.1  You will need to consider how to manage this, ensuring postal votes can be issued to electors as early as possible. 

You will also need to plan for any particular arrangements that will be required to manage the issuing of additional postal ballot packs close to polling day, where applications are determined close to the poll. For further information see our guidance on issuing postal votes.

You should also take into account the total number of current postal voters and projected turnout of postal voters when deciding on your staffing arrangements, as well as the potential for late engagement and interest in the election by which point scope for adjusting plans will be limited. You should plan for the possibility of a high turnout but, as a minimum, you should assume that the turnout of postal voters will be not less than the turnout of postal voters at the last equivalent polls. Your review of previous electoral events will give you an indication of how robust your previous staffing assumptions were.

You may need to revise this assessment after you have received the final postal voters’ lists from the ERO. You should build sufficient flexibility and contingency into your staffing arrangements to deal with a last-minute increase in numbers of postal voters, an unexpected increase in turnout, or varying volumes of postal votes being returned on different days. For example, if there are televised leaders’ debates, this may have an impact on the pattern and volume of returns and this should be part of your considerations when determining your staffing requirements. Your arrangements also need to be such that you can ensure you can effectively manage those delivered to polling stations on polling day. 

Managing contractors

If you decide to outsource all or part of the postal vote issuing process you should designate a member of the project team to monitor outsourced work and specifically to attend those parts of the issuing process that have been contracted out. This person should also monitor the work of the contractor, which should include carrying out tasks such as:

  • spot checking to ensure that the postal voting stationery does not contain any errors 
  • checking the postal ballot packs are being correctly collated 
  • ensuring that any postal votes that need to go overseas are being prioritised 

Further guidance on managing contractors and suppliers can be found in our guidance on Managing contractors and Suppliers.

Staffing for opening of postal votes

How the verification of personal identifiers is to be carried out, including how much of this process is automated and how much of it needs to be done manually, will also impact on the numbers of staff you will require for opening returned postal votes. You must have arrangements in place to enable the checking of 100% of postal vote identifiers.2

You can find more information in our guidance on the postal vote opening process.
 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Appointing polling station staff

You must appoint and pay a Presiding Officer and such Poll Clerks as may be necessary to staff each polling station.1 This cannot be any person who has been employed by or on behalf of a candidate in or about the election.2  

There are some responsibilities that cannot be undertaken by a Poll Clerk, such as decisions on whether an elector has produced an acceptable form of ID, or ordering someone to leave the polling station. You have flexibility to use the Poll Clerks you employ to carry out any other functions and responsibilities needed to deliver polling station voting effectively, including: 

  • the polling process – checking the register, checking photographic identification, marking the register, filling in the CNL and other statutory paperwork such as the Ballot Paper Refusal List (BPRL), etc.
  • facilitating checks of photographic identification in private, where requested
  • collection, acceptance, and rejection of postal votes handed in at the polling station (for elections on or after 2 May 2024)
  • managing the flow of electors and ensuring the secrecy of the ballot 
  • providing electors with additional information and support including: 
    • answering questions about the process
    • providing information about the instructions for voting and the requirement for photographic identification
    • explaining the types of photographic identification that can be used
    • providing advice and assistance to support the accessibility of the poll

When deciding on the allocation of electors and staff to polling stations, having regard to our guidance on the recommended minimum staffing levels for polling stations and on how staff could be deployed in different scenarios, will help ensure that voters can receive a high-quality service.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Recommended minimum staffing levels for polling stations

It is for you to consider each polling station individually and make decisions about allocating staff and electors accordingly.

We recommend the following ratios when allocating electors and staff to polling stations:

Electorate (excluding postal voters)Recommended number of polling station staff
0 - 1,2503 (1 Presiding Officer and 2 Poll Clerks)
1,250 - 2,2504 (1 Presiding Officer and 3 Poll Clerks)

A polling station should not have more than 2,250 electors allocated to it. This is lower than the level set out in previous guidance but has been set to reflect the additional requirements of the polling station voting process, for both polling station staff and electors, as a result of changes made by the Elections Act 2022.

The ratios outlined assume the election is not combined. In the event of combined polls, you should think about whether the management of more than one poll may require additional staff. 

These ratios are guidance only, they are not mandatory.

When making decisions on the allocation of electors and staff to polling stations, you should fully consider the particular circumstances of each polling station and the needs of your electorate as a whole, and document the reasoning behind the decisions you make. 

As a minimum you should consider: 

  • any particular local circumstances such as population increases (for example, due to any new housing developments since your last polling place review), demographic trends, and any known needs of your local electorate (for example, any areas where you expect you may need to undertake an ID check in private more often)
  • levels of postal voters
  • (for elections on or after 2 May 2024) the volume of postal votes usually handled in and the impact that the new postal vote handling measures will have on polling station staff time
  • the potential for late engagement including any local or national issues which may affect the turnout and interest in the election –– as a minimum you should assume that the turnout will be not less than the turnout at the last equivalent election
  • the spread of voters during the day – for example, if recent trends show a large number of voters attending the station in the morning, ensure your staffing ratios allow for this and will prevent large queues from forming 
  • additional support electors may need in understanding any recent changes to the electoral process, especially where this may impact differently depending on which polls are taking place
  • how the voter will move through the voting process from entering to exiting the polling station, taking into account the polling station size and layout
  • at combined polls, the impact the combination of polls will have, such as on the time taken to issue ballot papers and for voters to complete more than one ballot paper

This list is not exhaustive, and you should also consider any other factors that you consider appropriate. Our accessibility guidance contains additional factors to consider when planning your staffing levels at the polling station. Each decision should be taken on a case-by-case basis and not for the voting area as a whole.

In addition to considering the number of staff you will need to manage each polling station, you should think about how you will be able to respond positively to requests from voters to have their ID checked by a female member of staff. Ideally you will have a female member of staff at each polling station, but where this is not possible then you should think about how you can deploy other staff flexibly to meet the request, for example by utilising female polling station inspectors who have been delegated the authority to carry out these checks. More information on polling station inspectors can be found below.

As well as keeping a record of decisions made you should maintain a plan which ensures you are able to respond to any issues, for example, dealing with a queue at one or more  polling stations in your area at particularly busy times such as traditionally after work rush, or in the run-up to close of poll at 10pm. Voters in a queue at their polling station at 10pm must be issued with their ballot paper.

Polling station inspectors

As well as making decisions on the number of polling station staff you will need, you should also ensure that you have sufficient numbers of polling station inspectors to support the delivery of the poll in your area. In making your decision, you should consider factors such as your local geography and the experience of polling station staff in each polling place, as well as any impact of the new processes that need to be delivered as a result of the Elections Act 2022. 

For example, you could use female polling station inspectors to support electors who request to have their ID checked in private by a female member of staff where no female member of staff is available in a specific polling station at that time. To facilitate this, you would need to appoint the polling station inspector as a Deputy (A)RO for polling day. You should ensure that any such appointment is clearly defined to reflect that it is solely for the purpose of making decisions on the validity of ID as part of any checks they carry out. 

More information can be found in our guidance Appointment of polling station inspectors.

Examples of staff deployment at a polling station

There are different options open to you for deploying staff within polling stations. Your plans should be sufficiently flexible to allow you to deploy staff to respond to specific issues or needs that may arise throughout polling day.

Here are some examples:

  • if you have one Presiding Officer with two additional staff allocated to a polling station, all three should be trained in the process of issuing ballot papers, checking photographic identification and filling in the associated paperwork. While two staff members carry out the issuing process, the other could as as an information officer to provide advice and assistance to voters as required
  • if a polling place contains multiple polling stations, a member of staff could be used as an information officer covering all stations to assist with directing voters to the correct polling station and providing advice and assistance to voters as required
  • staff from one polling station in the polling place could also be used to assist staff in another polling station within the same polling place if required, for example as a result of a high number of voters attending one of the stations at a particular time when the other station is quiet

You may also consider appointing a team of back-up polling station staff to be deployed flexibly as needed, such as at peak times or in the run-up to close of poll, or to respond to particular issues that may arise throughout polling day. For example, you could base extra staff at the largest/busiest polling place you have in an area and deploy them to other stations in the area when needed. 

If parts of the electoral area are not easily accessible, you could find it helpful to have teams positioned in different parts of the area. 

The UK government have confirmed that the funding being provided to support additional staff in polling stations as a result of measures in the Elections Act 2022 is able to be used flexibly. For example, not only to employ additional poll clerks within polling stations but also to support the appointment of additional polling station inspectors or back-up staff as appropriate.

You will also need to think about how to train staff so that you can deploy them flexibly on polling day. Further guidance on training can be found in Training presiding officers, poll clerks and polling station inspectors

The Commission’s handbook for polling station staff outlines in more detail the procedures staff should follow throughout polling day and at the close of poll. 

Polling station handbook – UK Parliamentary election (PDF) - We are updating this resource to reflect new measures introduced by the Elections Act 2022. It will be available again once the updates have been completed. If you are running a UK Parliamentary by-election you should contact your local Commission team for support and advice.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Appointing polling station inspectors

Polling station inspectors play an important role in the effective management of the poll. They provide an essential communication link between you and your polling station staff including dealing with queries and problems arising on polling day. 

You should appoint polling station inspectors to visit and inspect polling stations on your behalf on polling day. In deciding on the allocation of polling station inspectors to polling places, you should consider:

  • the geography of the area and travelling distance between polling places
  • the number of polling stations in each polling place
  • the experience of polling station staff at each polling station
  • expected turnout levels and any particular local circumstances
  • the number of visits polling station inspectors will be expected to make to each polling station during the day

Duties of a polling station inspector

Polling station inspectors should ensure that all of their assigned polling stations are:

  • properly set up to take account of voter needs and contribute to the smooth running of the polling station
  • fully equipped and accessible to all voters 
  • meeting your expectations of service to voters

The polling station inspector should work with the Presiding Officers and polling station staff to identify and deal with any problems arising throughout polling day and at the close of poll, and should escalate any issues to you as appropriate.

You should have a process in place for the ERO to communicate any polling day amendments to the register and emergency proxy applications. You should advise polling station inspectors of their role in this, if any.

Initially, polling station inspectors should aim to visit all of their allocated polling stations as quickly as possible in order to be able to reassure you that all stations have opened on time and are operating effectively.

These initial visits could be preceded by a separate communication sent by Presiding Officers to their polling station inspectors, prior to the opening of the poll. For example, polling station inspectors could be notified via text message confirming whether the polling station is set up and ready for opening, and whether there are any issues, to help the polling station inspector prioritise their visits.

Subsequent visits throughout the day can be used for a variety of purposes including:

  • collecting postal votes
  • answering any questions that polling station staff may have
  • checking that all notices remain properly displayed
  • delivering any missing or additional equipment that is required

Female PSIs may also be required to check the photographic ID of electors who request to have their ID checked in private by a female member of staff where no female member of staff is available in the polling station at that time. In such cases, the PSI should be appointed as a Deputy RO for polling day for the purpose of making decisions on the validity of ID as part of any checks they carry out. Our guidance on recommended staffing levels contain further information.

Instructions for polling station inspectors

You should provide polling station inspectors with clear instructions about their role and a checklist of tasks that they should carry out and complete during their polling station visits. This checklist also contains a list of what each polling station inspector should receive prior to polling day.

Completed checklists can also be used to inform an evaluation of the suitability of polling stations as part of the post-election review process. You can find a copy of the checklist to print and use in our planning the election resources section.
 

Last updated: 3 October 2023

Flexible staffing at polling stations

You should prepare a list of staff you can approach who can step into a role where a person is unavailable – for example, due to sickness. The list should include staff that would be able to work at very short notice.

While appointing stand-by staff may not always be practical or feasible within your budget, you should be prepared to deploy staff flexibly on polling day to respond to specific issues that may arise. 

You may also wish to rotate staff appointed within your polling station to undertake different roles through the course of the day, such as providing information to those entering the polling station and checking voters have brought the correct photographic ID to be able to vote.

You could also consider appointing part-time Poll Clerks to provide assistance at expected peak polling hours or in the run-up to 10pm. In addition, you could appoint a team of back-up polling station staff to be deployed at peak times to specific polling stations or to respond to specific issues that may arise throughout polling day or at the close of poll. If parts of the constituency are not easily accessible, it may be helpful to have teams positioned in different parts of the constituency area. 

To be able to deploy staff flexibly on polling day, you will need to train staff appropriately. You should train Poll Clerks and Presiding Officers in such a way as to ensure that both have the technical knowledge to carry out each other’s roles if required and as far as the law permits.

You can find further guidance on training in the section - Staffing and training.

Polling station inspectors should receive the same training as polling station staff in order for them to be able to be deployed flexibly and carry out polling station duties if required. You should also provide an additional briefing for polling station inspectors, covering items that are specific to their role.

You should give both polling station staff and polling station inspectors a copy of the Commission’s handbook for polling station staff and polling station quick guide, and instruct them to read both ahead of polling day and to bring their copies with them on polling day itself. You should give spare copies of the handbook and quick guide to polling station inspectors that they can provide to polling stations in the event of polling station staff forgetting to bring their copies on polling day.

Polling station handbook – UK Parliamentary election (PDF) - We are updating this resource to reflect new measures introduced by the Elections Act 2022. It will be available again once the updates have been completed. If you are running a UK Parliamentary by-election you should contact your local Commission team for support and advice.

Polling station quick guide – UK Parliamentary election (PDF) - We are updating this resource to reflect new measures introduced by the Elections Act 2022. It will be available again once the updates have been completed.

Last updated: 30 May 2023

Appointing verification and count staff

To ensure that voters can have confidence that their vote will be counted in the way they intended, you will need to put in place appropriate staff resources to ensure the verification and count are timely. 

It is important that you ensure there are the right number of competent, skilled and knowledgeable staff – and that each member of staff is clear about their role – so that the count is run efficiently and effectively and according to the principles for an effective verification and count. You should also ensure there is an appropriate number of reserve staff in case of staff absence on the day of the count.

You should consider appointing:

  • senior staff to assist with the overall operation and co-ordination of processes and the calculation of the result
  • staff and supervisors to deal with the secure transportation of the sealed boxes of postal ballot papers to the verification venue 
  • staff and supervisors to deal with the receipt of polling station materials and postal votes
  • staff and supervisors to deal with the final opening of postal votes
  • staff and supervisors to deal with the verification of used and unused ballot papers, spoilt ballot papers and the tendered votes list
  • staff and supervisors to deal with the sorting and counting of votes
  • porters, security staff and door attendants to deal with the security of the site
  • person(s) with knowledge of the site to deal with the management of the facilities within and around the site
  • responsible officer(s) to oversee the security of ballot boxes and relevant stationery where there is a break in proceedings or where ballot papers need to be packaged up and delivered to another venue at the end of verification
  • experienced media liaison staff
  • any other members of staff you consider necessary

While it may not be realistic to expect all verification and count staff to be fully utilised at every stage of the verification and count process, a responsive management plan which monitors activity levels and allows for reallocation of resources could reduce the length of time taken to complete key stages of the process.

When developing your plans for staffing the verification and count, you will need to bear in mind that there is a requirement under the legislation to take reasonable steps to begin counting the votes as soon as practicable and within four hours of the close of poll. There will also be an expectation among candidates, parties and the media for results to be declared as soon as possible and this too will need to be kept in mind in determining staffing requirements. 

For processes commenced immediately following the close of poll, you should wherever possible not use staff who have been on polling station duty all day.

You must not appoint any person who has been employed by or on behalf of a candidate in or about the election.1  

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Identifying support staff from your council

You should identify support staff and ensure they are available to assist with any public enquiries you may receive in the run-up to the election. There may be opportunities to utilise your council’s existing support staff to perform this role.

The support staff that you utilise should be trained to understand that there are various barriers that disabled electors may face when accessing information or voting in a polling station. Disabled voters may contact the (A)RO to identify a particular area that they need support with in the polling station. You can find more information on understanding barriers to voting in our guidance.

Managing enquiries from the public

You should set up a dedicated team to deal with a range of basic enquiries, such as questions about whether or not a person is registered to vote, postal and proxy voting and the location of polling stations. Where you are not also the ERO, you will need to work with the ERO for your local authority as appropriate to facilitate this. 

Staff dealing with public enquiries should receive training to deal with them and also be provided with:

  • agreed responses to frequently asked questions
  • a list of the locations of polling stations
  • details of key dates in the election timetable 
  • details of the process in place to escalate more complex enquiries to the election team

We have developed a template of FAQs for front line staff which you can adapt to fit your local circumstances. 

If you are running a UK Parliamentary by-election you should contact your local Commission team for support and advice.

Processing applications

The ERO should consider whether they will need any additional support staff to assist with the processing of registration and absent vote applications in the lead-up to the election – and in particular in the lead-up to the registration deadline on the 12th working day before the poll. Where you are not also the ERO, you should liaise with them to understand how they will manage the likely increase in applications close to deadlines, so that all staff involved in the election and the managing of queries have a clear understanding and can inform electors appropriately.

Further information on processing registration and absent vote applications in the lead-up to an election can be found in the Running Electoral Registration and Absent voting sections of the Commission’s guidance for EROs in England, Scotland and Wales.
 

Receiving postal votes at the council offices 

For elections on or after 2 May 2024, postal vote handling rules apply. This requires a postal vote return form to be completed whenever postal votes are handed in to council offices or polling stations, and also  limits to the number of postal votes that can be handed in to the elector’s own and those of up to 5 other electors per poll taking place. The same rules make it an offence for a political campaigner at an election to handle the postal vote(s) of another person, unless that person is a close relative or someone for whom they or the organisation which employs or engages them provide regular care. This will apply to postal votes handed in at council offices. 

Only people authorised to act on your behalf can receive postal votes returned by hand to you. You should consider whether you will authorise additional support staff to assist with the receipt of completed postal votes that are returned by members of the public to council offices. 

You should keep a record of the people you have authorised to act on your behalf and receive postal votes returned by hand.

Our guidance about the procedure to be followed when postal votes are handed in to the Returning Officer at council offices has more information. 

 

Last updated: 10 April 2024

Developing a training plan

You should establish a training plan at an early stage in your planning for the election which identifies the training needs of both permanent and temporary staff in the delivery of their roles. 

Each member of the team, whether permanent or temporary, needs to understand their particular role and any statutory obligations associated with the work they are undertaking. All staff should receive training on the legislative requirements and responsibilities relevant to their role, as well as training on understanding accessibility needs, ensuring equal access and good customer care.

Your plan should also include how you will evaluate the training sessions and materials used in order to inform future planning. If you have training or learning and development personnel within your council they may be able to assist you with this process.

Data protection training

Whilst the training you offer each member of the team will be tailored to their specific role, everyone handling personal data should be aware of and trained in the legal requirements for handling personal data in line with data protection legislation. 

You should discuss your plans for data protection training with your council’s Data Protection Officer. Data protection training will help you to embed the data protection principles in your work and demonstrate compliance with data protection legislation. 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Training staff to receive postal votes handed in at council offices

All staff authorised to receive postal votes handed in to the Returning Officer should receive training to ensure that the correct processes are followed.

The training session should address:

  • how to identify if a postal vote is for an election in the correct area
  • the process for accepting and rejecting postal votes delivered by hand
  • completing the postal vote return form accurately
  • making up the separate packets for postal votes accepted and rejected and the accompanying postal vote return forms
  • storing packets securely until they are delivered to the Returning Officer

Our guidance about the procedure to be followed when postal votes are handed in to the Returning Officer at council offices has more information. 
 

Last updated: 22 February 2024

Training postal vote issue and opening staff

You should make arrangements to train all postal vote issue and opening staff on the processes involved with each stage. This training may be provided immediately prior to commencement of the issuing and opening processes, but you should provide them with guidance notes in advance. 

However, you should consider training supervisory staff a day or two in advance of the issuing or opening session so that they are fully aware of their duties and what will be expected of them. This training should cover:

  • carrying out the required quality assurance checks, whether you are issuing postal votes in-house or are using an external contractor
  • ensuring that the opening procedures and the verification process are correctly followed and an audit trail is maintained

You should provide any person who will be undertaking the verification of postal vote identifiers, and has been delegated the authority by you to make decisions on postal voting statements, a copy of the Commission and Forensic Science Service guidance on signature checking, and instruct them to follow it. 

You should also consider whether any additional training may be appropriate for anyone undertaking this role. You should ensure staff are trained accordingly to ensure that any personal data is handled in accordance with data protection legislation.  

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Training presiding officers, poll clerks and polling station inspectors

Presiding Officers, Poll Clerks and other front line staff are frequently the only members of your staff that voters will meet in person. It is essential that such staff are trained to understand their role and to perform their duties professionally and effectively, and are able to provide a high standard of customer care. 

Such staff need to be able to communicate well with all voters. To ensure that staff understand the barriers that some disabled people face when voting, accessibility issues should be covered in training.

You should give polling station staff and polling station inspectors a copy of the Commission’s handbook for polling station staff and polling station quick guide and instruct them to read both ahead of polling day and to bring their copies with them on polling day itself.

Polling station handbook – UK Parliamentary election (PDF) - We are updating this resource to reflect new measures introduced by the Elections Act 2022. It will be available again once the updates have been completed. If you are running a UK Parliamentary by-election you should contact your local Commission team for support and advice.

Polling station quick guide – UK Parliamentary election (PDF) - We are updating this resource to reflect new measures introduced by the Elections Act 2022. It will be available again once the updates have been completed.

Polling station inspectors will also need spare copies of the handbook and quick guide to give to polling station staff who have forgotten to bring their copies on polling day.

All polling station staff should be required to attend a training session. The training session should address:

  • the tasks to be carried out ahead of polling day 
  • the setting up and management of the polling station 
  • who can attend a polling station and the procedures to be followed on polling day itself including checking photographic ID, marking the register and filling in the required forms during the poll
  • (for elections on or after 2 May 2024) the process for receiving postal votes handed in at the polling station
  • the need for polling station staff to be customer-focused and to offer assistance to all voters, including being aware of accessibility needs for disabled voters
  • the security of election stationery, including returned postal votes
  • the importance of handling personal data in line with data protection legislation
  • the procedures to be followed at the close of poll
  • health and safety issues

You should provide polling station staff and polling station inspectors with contact numbers for use in the event of any problems. As well as numbers for the elections office, this should include a contact number for the police.

Training all staff, including polling station inspectors, on the roles and responsibilities associated with working in the polling station can help provide contingency in the event of loss of staff. For more information see our guidance on Flexible staffing at polling stations.

We have prepared resources to support your training including:  

  • a template PowerPoint briefing for polling station staff which you can update with any additional local information you consider necessary 
  • a quiz for polling station staff and role play exercises and scenarios that you can use as a mechanism for testing and embedding learning 
  • an exercise on completing the ballot paper accounts, to provide the foundation for an accurate verification
  • a template graphical guide to packaging materials at the close of poll is also available, for you to adapt and provide to polling station staff

Training polling station inspectors

You should provide an additional briefing for polling station inspectors, covering items that are specific to their role and ensuring they are aware of the checklist for polling station inspectors. We have developed a template checklist for polling station inspectors that you may find helpful.

Your training should communicate that polling station inspectors play an important role in the effective management of the poll and should be able to deal with queries and problems arising at the polling station on polling day. Polling station inspectors must ensure that all of their assigned polling stations are properly set up, fully equipped and accessible to all voters and that they can identify and deal with any problems arising. For example, if there are any queues building up the polling station inspector should be able to find a solution to reduce them.

 

In certain circumstances, such as if a private check of a female elector's photographic ID is required for religious reasons, female Polling Station Inspectors may also be required to attend a polling station to check the photographic ID if a polling station only has male staff.

Training should also emphasise that the collection of postal votes as directed by the Returning Officer is a task that must be conducted with care, making sure that all those collected are properly and accurately logged.  At no time should these postal votes be left in a vehicle while the polling station inspector visits the polling stations. 

You should make the polling station inspector aware that they may be involved in liaising with the elections office regarding clerical errors on the register and emergency proxy applications.

You should ensure that each polling station inspector receives the following items:

  • a mobile phone (if required)
  • an ID badge clearly showing their name as a representative of the Returning Officer
  • a label for the car windscreen with appropriate identification
  • a map of the area identifying the location of all of the polling places allocated to the inspector
  • the names of all polling station staff and a contact number for each of the Presiding Officers
  • a contact list of all of the key holders for the polling places in the allocated area (it may also be useful to have the contact number of a locksmith in case a lock is jammed)
  • a contact number for the police
  • a ballot box with spare seals
  • a sundries box with spare stationery and forms
  • polling station handbooks and quick guides
  • a copy of the register for each polling station
  • spare ballot papers (sealed and only to be used in an emergency)
  • a wallet/packet with a sealing mechanism to collect returned postal votes, along with a log for recording number of postal votes removed, the time of collection and details of the person who collected them
  • a spare blank ballot paper account
  • a polling place/station checklist to be completed for each polling place
  • copies of the Code of conduct for tellers and any other local instructions
Last updated: 19 December 2023

Training and briefing verification and count staff

You should ensure that staff receive appropriate training and instructions to allow them to carry out their duties effectively and in accordance with the law. Training should include what staff should look for when examining ballot papers to determine which should be included in the count.

You should brief all verification and count staff so that they are fully aware of their duties and what will be expected of them. All briefings should, as a minimum, cover the procedures relevant to the roles.

The processes involved at the verification and count can be complicated and you may find that the best way of training senior staff is to prepare a small scale ‘mock’ verification and count with a few hundred ballot papers. This will give staff the opportunity to physically work through the processes involved, completing the necessary paperwork and adjudicating on the sample ballot papers. This requires some resource to achieve but it can be a valuable tool in ensuring the verification and count runs smoothly and is timely on the night.

Prior to the start of the verification and count proceedings, you should undertake a walk-through of the procedures you are expecting everyone to follow so that everyone is aware of what is expected of them at each stage, and how the different roles relate to each other.

Further information is available in our guidance on the principles of an effective verification and count.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Identify and book suitable venues and plan layouts

You should identify appropriate venues for all election activities as early as possible. 

Your project plan should cover the identification of suitable venues for all processes that you are responsible for.

You should contact the managers of these premises at an early stage to inform them of the dates, and make the necessary booking arrangements. This will highlight where any venues are not available and should allow sufficient time to act on the information and identify alternative premises.

Ensuring venues are accessible

As part of your review of previous electoral events, you should have undertaken an evaluation of the accessibility of venues used. The results of this should be used to inform your planning and to ensure that any identified barriers to access can be overcome.

Under the Equality Act 2010, service providers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to avoid putting people with disabilities at a substantial disadvantage compared to people who are not disabled.1 You should work closely with experts on access to premises or facilities for disabled people in order to comply with the duty. The equalities officer at your local authority should be able to provide you with advice and assistance.
 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Postal vote issuing and opening venues and layouts

When selecting your venue(s) for postal vote issuing and opening sessions you should take into account the:

  • lessons learnt from previous electoral events
  • volume of postal ballot packs to be issued
  • estimated volume of returned postal votes
  • intended workflows
  • IT requirements
  • security and storage requirements
  • presence of disabled access, both to and within the venues

Your layout plans should include the:

  • number and positioning of staff
  • equipment needed, including electricity and network points
  • workflows to be followed

When mapping out workflows, you should take into account factors including any lessons learnt from previous electoral events and the expected turnout. If your last postal vote opening session is to take place at the verification and count venue, you should ensure that your verification and count layout plan makes provision for this.

The process of producing layout plans will help identify any potential issues prior to the setting up of the venues and will allow for any changes to workflow or the positioning of staff or equipment to be made in good time. 

Layout plans also contribute towards transparency, as these plans can be handed out to anyone entitled to be present in order to help them to follow what is happening, where and when.

You should ensure that whatever layout you choose, it is accessible to all those working on the processes and those entitled to observe them.

Considerations for observation of outsourced postal vote issue  

If you have outsourced the issuing of postal votes, you will still need to be satisfied that your contractors have made adequate arrangements to administer the issue effectively and in a transparent manner. As part of this, you could ask your contractor for copies of their proposed layout plans. 

These plans would also help to ensure that any observers present understand the processes that are being followed, and will be of particular assistance for your staff appointed to conduct spot-checks during the printing, collation and issuing of postal ballot packs.

You should designate a member of the project team to monitor any outsourced work and the work of the contractor, specifically attending those parts of the issuing process that have been contracted out.

Further guidance on quality assurance of the production and delivery of election materials can be found in Quality assurance and proof checking of election material

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Booking suitable polling stations

As part of any Polling Place Review, you should evaluate the suitability of the polling stations that are available for use in the appropriate electoral areas.

It is essential that polling stations provide sufficient space for voting to take place.

Ideally, you will have the choice of a range of fully accessible buildings, conveniently located for electors in the area, with owners willing to hire them out for polling station use at low cost. Unfortunately, in practice, this is often not the case and in some areas there may be little choice available. 

You will need to take access needs into account when planning the layout and set up of polling stations to ensure that all voters receive a high-quality service. This should include disabled voters who may need additional equipment or seating. More guidance is available on the types of equipment you may need to consider in our guidance on providing equipment at the polling station.

The size of polling stations should be big enough to enable a clear flow of voters to try to reduce the risk of congestion or queues. You will also need to ensure there is an area identified for checking photographic ID in private, if requested. 

 

You should be able to demonstrate that assessments have been conducted of the polling stations to be used at the election. Where access problems exist, you should document the problems, identify potential improvements and record any action taken to try to remedy these problems.

You should ensure that any additional equipment required to make the polling station accessible will be delivered and set up before the opening of the poll.

The polling station handbook provides further information on how to set up polling stations to ensure they are accessible for all voters.

Polling station handbook – UK Parliamentary election (PDF) - We are updating this resource to reflect new measures introduced by the Elections Act 2022. It will be available again once the updates have been completed. If you are running a UK Parliamentary by-election you should contact your local Commission team for support and advice.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Use of schools as polling stations

Schools that are publicly-funded, including academies and free schools, may be used as polling stations free of charge, and the legislation allows you to require a room in such schools for use as a polling station.1 You are also entitled to use, free of charge, any publicly-funded room as a polling station.2

You will, however, need to pay for any lighting, heating, etc., costs incurred when using such rooms as polling stations.3 You should liaise with the relevant schools and managers of publicly-funded rooms at the earliest opportunity to confirm that you want to use certain rooms within their premises as polling stations.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Last minute changes to polling stations

There may be circumstances (e.g., flooding, fire, vandalism) when a change of polling station is required at short notice. As part of your contingency planning, you should compile a list of stand-by or portable polling stations that could be used in such circumstances. Local authorities are responsible for designating polling places and polling districts and you must designate a new polling station within the same polling place.1  

Usually, if there is a need to change the polling place, council agreement will be required. If delegation procedures are in place, you should follow these and contact the person or persons who are entitled to make changes to the scheme of polling places.

However, flood, fire or vandalism occurring in the immediate lead-up to polling day could constitute a ‘special circumstance’, enabling you to designate a polling station outside the polling place without the need to seek council agreement.

You should amend and republish the notice of situation of polling stations to reflect any changes to your polling stations.

There are a number of mitigating measures you can take to ensure that electors who are affected by a late change to a polling station are able to vote with minimum disruption. You should have a protocol for what to do in case of a last-minute change. As a minimum, you should:

  • use social media to inform electors that there has been a change to a polling station
  • if time allows, send out a letter to all affected electors informing them of the change to their polling station
  • if time allows, use the local media to disseminate information to the affected electors – for example, through issuing press releases
  • put up signs at the old polling station informing electors about the change, including directions to the new one
  • display clear and visible signage at the new polling station 

Where any last minute changes to polling stations are required, ROs should ensure equipment to support disabled voters is still provided.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Verification and count venues and layouts

You should ensure that the verification and count processes are designed and managed to secure an accurate result, with a clear audit trail and that they are transparent, with everything carried out in clear view of all those entitled to attend.

The verification and count may take place at different venues and in these circumstances you will need to take into consideration travel to the different locations and impact on timings, steps required to package up the ballot papers in accordance with the relevant election rules, and secure transportation to the count venue.

Selecting the venue(s)

When selecting the venue for your verification and count, you should consider:

  • convenience of the location of the venue
  • lessons learnt from previous electoral events
  • access arrangements for vehicles and parking
  • entrances for those entitled to attend and staff, and for the delivery of the ballot boxes
  • disabled access, both to and within the venue
  • size of the venue taking into account:
    • the space required to conduct the verification and count processes
    • sufficient storage space for parcels, ballot boxes and other equipment
    • adequate space for those entitled to attend and observe proceedings at the count
  • lighting within the venue and externally
  • heating of the venue
  • platform or stage for announcing the results, and for making regular announcements throughout the proceedings
  • acoustics within the venue
  • internal and external IT and communication systems
  • facilities for those attending the verification and count
  • media requirements
  • furniture requirements
  • security and storage requirements
  • contingency arrangements to address the risk of a loss of venue

You should ensure that any equipment is tested in advance of the verification and count and that you have contingency arrangements in place in case of equipment or power malfunction.

Planning the layout

You need to ensure that all your processes are transparent, with everything at the verification and count carried out in clear view of all those entitled to attend enabling them to have confidence that the count process is well-managed and so that they can have confidence in the result.

You should prepare layout plans of your verification and count venue(s) at an early stage. A good layout will be informed by the verification and count model you decide to adopt, consideration of the workflows you intend to follow and the space you will have available. 

To avoid any issues at the verification and count you should put yourself in the position of a candidate or agent when planning the layout to test whether the arrangements deliver the necessary transparency.

However, you also need to ensure that the work of your staff is not disrupted by those observing the process.

In considering the layout and organisation of the verification and count, you should consider that:

  • appropriate security arrangements are in place to ensure that only those eligible to attend actually do so
  • there are sufficient tables to accommodate the number of verification and counting staff you have appointed and adequate space for the processes to be carried out efficiently
  • the layout of the tables:
    • takes into account the number of counting agents that are likely to be appointed to oversee the verification and count, as well as others entitled to be present
    • allows easy viewing by all of those entitled to be present
    • takes into account the number and size of the ballot papers
  • the space around the tables and circulation areas has been maximised and any obstructions removed
  • there is sufficient seating for those entitled to attend proceedings
  • the public address system is in working order with sufficient range 
  • the requirements of the media have been considered, e.g. by the provision of a separate media area, as they are likely to require space for their specialist (sometimes bulky) equipment
  • the health and safety of all those attending has been assessed, for example:
    • any cabling from equipment or media cameras should not present a trip hazard to anyone at the proceedings
    • free access to emergency exits should not be obstructed in any way
    • maximum venue capacity should not be exceeded
       
Last updated: 19 December 2023

Use of designated areas

You should consider designating areas for specific functions and identify what furniture and equipment will be required for each.

Arrival at the venue

Car parking and vehicle access

It is advisable to designate different parking areas for candidates, agents and observers, and for staff. It can be helpful to have a designated entrance and exit to the car park, to avoid congestion, such as when ballot boxes are arriving from the polling stations.

It may be useful to have staff supervising the car park at this time. Any staff working in the car parking area should be equipped with appropriate safety wear such as high-visibility jackets, and should be trained to deal with a large volume of traffic including, for example, counting agents arriving at the proceedings and polling station staff arriving with ballot boxes. 

Entrance

Staff should be positioned at the entrance(s) to check whether people seeking to enter the verification and count are entitled to do so. It can be helpful to have different entrances for staff and for other attendees. Additionally you should ensure that your entrance arrangements avoid creating a bottleneck which could delay the start of the verification and count. 

Receiving area

This is where ballot boxes, ballot paper accounts and other polling station stationery and equipment will arrive for checking in and sorting. Ideally, this area should have an entrance separate from that used by other staff, candidates, agents and observers, with direct access from the car park or loading area. 

Processing Areas

Verification, reconciliation and results tables

This is where the verification staff will verify the contents of the ballot boxes and reconcile the total number of votes. If laptops are to be used, you should take cabling arrangements into account and consider contingency arrangements in the event of equipment failure. 

If you need to communicate local count totals to an RO responsible for collating the results you will also require an area for this communication to take place.

RO’s table

This is where you should keep law textbooks, Electoral Commission guidance, procedure notes, spare staff instructions, staff lists, stationery and other guidance materials available for reference.

Count tables

These should provide proper separation for the staff and counting agents. Where space permits, chairs could be provided close to these tables for counting agents and observers.

You may wish to use measures to separate staff working at counting tables and those observing. However, these measures should not negatively impact on the ability of candidates and agents to oversee and scrutinise the verification and count processes, including the adjudication of doubtful ballot papers.  

Postal voting area

Where postal votes are to be opened and the personal identifiers checked at the verification venue, you should allocate a separate area for processing unopened postal votes received from polling stations. You will need to allocate adequate space to receive, open and verify the identifiers on these postal votes, and to allow observation of these processes. 

This guidance will be updated with the Postal Vote Handling measures from the Elections Act once the relevant secondary legislation has been laid and processes finalised. We will confirm when this will be published via the EA Bulletin.

You will need to consider network and cabling arrangements if using verification software for personal identifier verification.

Tables for counted ballot papers

Once ballot papers have been sorted and counted into votes for individual parties and/or candidates, as appropriate, they should be placed in bundles (e.g. 100 ballot papers) and put on a separate table, so that all of the votes for each party or candidate are kept together.  

Candidates and agents are likely to expect all the bundles for all the parties and/ or candidates (as appropriate) to be placed in one central location so they can see the comparative numbers of votes for each party and/or candidate.  This needs to be considered particularly when the verification and count has been sub-divided into areas smaller than the electoral area.

Other areas

Area for candidates, agents, observers and guests

If possible, consider setting aside a separate area for candidates, agents, observers and guests with access to television coverage of the elections.

Area for refreshments

Consider providing an area where counting assistants and other staff can have a drink and a snack – they may be advised to bring some drink and food along or this could be provided for them. The verification and count can be a lengthy process and it is important to have adequate refreshments available to help to maintain staff energy and concentration levels. 

To avoid the possibility of any spillages you should not allow counting assistants to eat or drink at the counting tables.  However, you could consider allowing the consumption of bottled water (with non-spill tops) at the count tables. Many ROs also provide facilities for candidates, agents, observers and other attendees to purchase refreshments on site.

Media area

The requirements for the media area will depend upon the types of media represented and their respective needs. For example, if television cameras are present, any lighting should not cause undue heat or glare which might impair the efficiency of the count, and cameras must not be allowed to film close-ups of the ballot papers. In addition, it is important that there are no trailing cables for count attendees to trip over, and that any equipment installed is safely positioned.

You could consider establishing areas for media representatives that allow the opportunity to oversee the proceedings from a distance and fulfil their role to report on the progress and results throughout the event.

Declaration area

A raised platform on which the local totals/results can be declared. If space allows you should gather candidates together for the announcements and allow acceptance and concession speeches. 

If you decide that these traditional arrangements will not be feasible at your venue, you should ensure that you are nevertheless able to communicate the results of the polls in line with legislative requirements and that all stakeholders, including media representatives, are aware of your planned arrangements in advance.
 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Managing contractors and suppliers

You can outsource particular work required to deliver the election, but not the responsibility for ensuring compliance with the legislation. 

Do not automatically assume that outsourcing is your only and best option. You should make an assessment of the need to outsource. Your decision should be taken as part of an assessment of the costs, risks and benefits of outsourcing work, compared to in-house delivery by your staff. 

Your review of previous electoral events and consideration of the specific requirements for the election will help to inform your decision as to whether or not to outsource a particular function or task.

If outsourcing is considered appropriate, your project plan should cover the management of contractors and suppliers and the development and management of contracts.

Finding printers

If you decide to outsource production and are having difficulty finding a suitable printer, the British Printing Industries Federation, or in Scotland, Graphic Enterprise Scotland may be contacted for assistance:

British Printing Industries Federation
Head Office
Unit 2 
Villiers Court
Meriden Business Park
Copse Drive
Coventry
CV5 9RN
Tel: 0845 250 7050
www.britishprint.com

Graphic Enterprise Scotland
C/O Maclay, Murray & Spens
1 George Square
Glasgow
G2 1AL
Tel: 07771 865 947
www.graphicenterprisescotland.org  
 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Managing the procurement process for outsourced work

If you decide to outsource work, you should commence the procurement process as soon as possible.

Your local authority will have adopted standing orders or regulations relating to procurement and contracts. You should take advice from relevant staff at your local authority on the procedures to be followed and legal requirements for procuring supplies and services. This includes consideration of any equipment that you may need to procure for the training and processes you undertake in-house such as:

You will also need to have regard to the requirements of the Fees and Charges Order. 

You should document all stages of the procurement process. The risks of outsourcing should be clearly acknowledged in your documentation, with contingency arrangements identified and built into the process.

Good public procurement practice recommends obtaining at least three written quotations from prospective suppliers. Some local authorities may have a standing list of approved contractors who have already been through a tendering process. It may be more effective and economical to use such existing contractors and systems.

A detailed specification of requirements is essential for effective procurement, and should be developed for all outsourced work. Suppliers should be able to provide robust information on how they are going to deliver the work as required by the specification. As a minimum, the specification must:

  • include a detailed description of what you want them to deliver and when
  • provide clear instructions as to the necessary statutory requirements and obligations in relation to the particular work or services to be undertaken, such as directions as to printing and any content and layout requirements statutory deadlines
  • contain relevant information about any data that will be provided, including processes for sending and receipt, and secure management of data
  • be provided to all those invited to tender for the work, and the successful contractor must be able to meet all of the requirements of the specification
  • make it clear that the successful contractor should be producing work or delivering services according to the specification and that no changes should be made during fulfilment of the contract without prior authorisation

You should take steps to ensure that your selected contractor understands the requirements and has the experience and suitability to undertake the work being outsourced. The final price in the suppliers’ proposals should not be the only consideration in choosing a contractor. Each bid should be carefully considered to assess exactly what it offers.  

The focus should be on value for money, with the final decision being a judgement based on the contractor’s commitment to demonstrate: 

  • the best combination of the cost of the goods or service 
  • the ability to meet your requirements as laid out in the specification
  • the capability to complete the work on time and to a high standard
  • the provision of sufficient guarantees that the requirements of the data protection legislation will be met
  • that the appropriate checks will be made relating to the suppliers’ statements as to security, health and safety, and the secure handling of data

Contractors may sub-contract work out and you should give prior written consent before sub-contractors are to be used. You should ensure that any sub-contractors are aware of the specific requirements as detailed in the specification and seek assurances that the sub-contractor will be capable of delivering the work.

Once you have made your final decision, you should take up any formal references of the chosen applicant. You should also notify unsuccessful applicants and be prepared to debrief them should they request it.

You should have a formal, written contract in place with every contractor to which you have outsourced a function or task. It is essential that statutory requirements and their implications are fully explained wherever contractors are used, and that these requirements are explicitly stated in the contract for any work. 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Data Protection considerations for outsourced work

When appointing a contractor or supplier you must ensure that they can provide sufficient guarantees that the requirements of data protection legislation will be met.

The requirements state that the supplier and any sub-contractors must ensure:

  • the secure destruction of all electoral registration data and related materials at an agreed point
  • the safe/secure storage of all live ballot papers 
  • the secure destruction of all data related to the ballot papers at an agreed point, for example, as soon as possible after polling day

You should ensure that data protection is integral in any tender exercise (documenting your decision-making process) and that specific requirements are met in any contract awarded. You should liaise with your council’s Data Protection/Information Officer to ensure compliance with data protection legislation.

There are specific requirements under data protection legislation where you are using a contractor (i.e. a ‘processor’) to process personal data on your behalf. This would include, for example, where you are sending data to a contractor to election materials such as postal ballot packs or ballot papers.

As RO you are the data controller and you remain ultimately responsible for ensuring that personal data is processed in accordance with data protection legislation. However, if a processor fails to meet any of its obligations, or acts against your instructions, then it may also be liable to pay damages or be subject to fines or other penalties or corrective measures. The ICO has provided guidance on ‘Contracts and liabilities between controllers and processors’ which you should consider in relation to your contracts with data processors. 

Please see our data protection guidance on Using contractors and suppliers for further information.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Developing contracts for outsourced work

The key to effective contract management is continuous and open lines of communication between you and your nominated contract manager, underpinned by clear and robust provisions in the contract as to the quality and timescales expected and required. 

The contract should outline basic details regarding the products and services being delivered, such as specifications, quantities, timeframes and cost.  

The contract must allow you to terminate the contract in the case of:

  • a negligent act or omission
  • an act resulting in you being unable to perform your statutory duties 
  • insolvency or dissolution of the company affecting the contract

The supplier should also have adequate insurance in place to cover risks in relation to public liability and professional negligence. 

It should also support the quality assurance process by containing specific details of the following subject areas:  

Business continuity plans (BCPs)

It is key that your contract arrangements should outline how your supplier will continue operating during an unplanned disruption in service. The detail may be held outside of your formal contract, but you should ensure that you get assurance that such BCPs exist, and ideally you should be able to view these for your own reference.

Service level agreements (SLAs) 

Your contract should define exactly what services a supplier will provide and the required level or standard for those services. For example, this may include details of how quickly emails will be replied to, cover your rights and those of Electoral Commission representatives and accredited observers to access supplier premises for the purposes of observation, or to enable you to carry out quality assurance checks, agree the amount of slippage for any deadlines that is permitted by both sides under the contract, and how any failures to meet SLAs will be dealt with, both in terms of delivery and any related compensation. Such SLAs will help define what you can expect as a customer and how you and your supplier will work together. 

You should establish a procedure to enable you to carry out proof-checking on print-ready proofs and test documents within the agreed timescales. You should also agree a process to rectify any errors.

Any variations from the agreed specification could result in a breach of legislation and any such breach is the personal responsibility of the RO, so any variations should be formally documented and signed off by you or by someone authorised to act on your behalf. The contract should be capable of being adapted to take account of unscheduled activities and last minute changes. You should ensure that contractors are aware of how registration deadlines may impact on timescales. For example, EROs have until the determination deadline (i.e. 6 working days before the poll) to receive the required evidence from a prospective elector under the exceptions process and make their determination.1 If the elector also applied to vote by post, this will impact on the number of postal votes to be included in the last issue. If there is slippage, for example because of the time required to process bulk last minute postal vote applications, you should advise the contractors as soon as possible.

Data protection arrangements

Ensure that you cover the specifics of the data to be processed, including the types of data, the duration of the processing and the rights and obligations of both parties. This should also include instructions for deleting data after the processing has been completed. It is a legal requirement under current data protection legislation to formalise the working relationship with suppliers contracted to process data you hold, in a written contract. For further information see our guidance on data protection considerations when using contractors and suppliers.

You should also consider confidentiality clauses. While ROs are not subject to freedom of information requests, in the interests of transparency, consideration should be given to agreeing to some disclosure in the event of an FOI request. However, you and the supplier must not divulge any confidential information relating the terms of the contract.

You must provide suppliers with a copy of the requirements of secrecy:

Use of any sub-contractors

Your supplier should identify where they will be subcontracting any element of the delivery of their services. For election suppliers this could be in relation to production, fulfilment or delivery of materials. Whilst the use of sub-contractors is commonplace to many industries, and should not in itself be a cause of concern, it is important that you are aware of whether your suppliers utilise the services of sub-contractors and the quality assurance processes they have in place to ensure that any work delivered by third parties maintains the standards as set out in your contract with them, including data protection and secrecy requirements.

Invoicing arrangements 

You should ensure that all supporting information in relation to the costs charged and will be sent by the supplier in accordance with the tender/quote. You must settle the invoice within the agreed time.
 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Preparing for managing the delivery of outsourced work

As part of your preparations for the delivery of the poll, you should check in with suppliers to finalise arrangements well before the start of the election period. This is especially important if you have long-standing contracts in place and you should check that all contractual arrangements are still appropriate and fully meet your requirements, or if there have been changes of personnel on either side. 

As part of the pre-poll check in you should cover:

  • who the key contacts are from each side, and who can be contacted when the primary contacts are not available (including out-of-hours) to ensure that work progresses without unnecessary delay
  • the timeline for all stages of the work to be delivered, including:
    • when you will provide data and other information to the contractor
    • when each round of proofs will be provided to you for each item being produced, and the deadline for you to undertake your checks and respond for each
    • the printing and fulfilment windows for each item, including when and how quality assurance checks will take place at each stage 
    • the despatch window for each item, including likely delivery dates given the delivery service to be used and the quantities being despatched on each date
    • the management of files of additional electors/electors to be removed from the data (where applicable)
  • any proposed use of sub-contractors; including in relation to the use of downstream access providers (DSAs) for the delivery of materials to electors
  • the formats and communication channels to be used to provide information to suppliers (especially data from your EMS), share proofs and provide confirmation of receipt of data, items or sign-off of proofs etc. throughout the process, and for confirmation of despatch of items. This is important to agree in advance to support a clear audit trail of each stage of the process
  • the exact specifications for each item being produced; items such as ballot papers must, by law, be printed in accordance with the directions for printing in the appendix to the relevant election rules. For example, you should check with your print supplier the maximum size of ballot papers that they can produce and what contingency arrangements will be in place should longer ballot papers be required
  • how you will inform each other of any issues that arise, and the escalation process involved for decision making and resolution if needed

Once you have agreed on all of the particular arrangements as above, you should produce a written document which contains all of the details and can be referred to throughout the process to ensure every stage is managed and delivered as per your mutually agreed specifications. 

It is important to remember that the agreed deadlines will apply to both parties, so you will need to make sure that you carry out all required actions on the dates agreed to support the completion of the work to the agreed timetable.

You can find more guidance to support you when working with suppliers in our section on quality assurance and proofing of election materials

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Working with mail delivery partners

Unless you are planning to hand-deliver all of your election material, you will need have early discussions with your mail delivery provider to finalise arrangements. Your focus should be to ensure that material is delivered to electors successfully and maximises the time available to them to receive the information and take action as necessary. 

Some print suppliers use Royal Mail for the end to end delivery of mail, however some use downstream access (DSA) providers for the initial part of the distribution process. This involves the mail being collected and processed by a company other than Royal Mail, but then handed over to Royal Mail mail centres for final processing and delivery from local delivery offices. 

Regardless of how the delivery of your mail is managed, it is important to retain an overview at all times as responsibility remains with you even where you outsource different processes. 

You should discuss with your print suppliers to confirm whether they intend to use DSA providers as part of the process of delivering your election material, or whether items will be handed over directly to Royal Mail. This will help you understand the full delivery process and manage any issues should they arise. 

If you have agreed with your supplier that DSA providers will be used as part of the despatch and delivery process, you should get updates from your supplier on the progress of the delivery throughout.

Managing delivery schedules

You should liaise with your print supplier to manage the delivery of materials and ensure that voters receive the material as soon as possible so that they have the maximum amount of time to act on the information.

In making these arrangements you should:

  • agree and obtain formal confirmation on strict delivery schedules well in advance of the poll. For example, when the dispatch of election material will commence and last date of dispatch
  • obtain postal dockets to confirm the number of documents dispatched and the dates of dispatch, for all issues. This will also help to identify any possible issues that may have arisen with regards to dispatch and feed into any subsequent evaluation of contractor performance, and enable you to provide information to voters on dates that they should expect to receive material

You can find more information in our guidance on options for delivery of postal ballot packs

Royal Mail

You should contact your Royal Mail account manager, and continue to liaise with them on a regular basis. 
At an early stage in your planning process you should ensure that:

  • any business reply licences you hold are up to date 
  • you obtain the estimated delivery window of election material based on the despatch dates and method of delivery/postal package chosen. This will help you to manage communication channels to voters in your area and assist in early detection of any issues encountered with the delivery of election material
  • any postal voting arrangements will help to maximise the time available to postal voters to receive, complete and return their postal vote
  • the correct postage will be included on any postal votes being sent to addresses outside the UK
  • Royal Mail knows where and when to deliver your returned postal votes to a secure point, ready for processing; you may wish to consider a timed delivery 

You will also need to consider whether to arrange for any final sweeps of postal votes and weigh up what the benefits of the sweep would be.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Maintaining the integrity of the election

Voters and campaigners should be confident that:

  • elections are free from fraud
  • votes cast will be counted in the way that voters intended
  • the results you declare are true and accurate 

Trust and confidence in the integrity of elections is essential but can be fragile. It will be difficult for you to rebuild trust or confidence which has been lost as a result of allegations or proven cases of fraud. 

You should put in place effective strategies for preventing electoral fraud from the outset. You will also need to be prepared to work with the police and prosecutors to subsequently investigate any allegations which might be made. 

You should cover your approach to tackling electoral fraud with parties, candidates and agents at briefing sessions and as part of any written information provided to them. You should also invite the police to attend any such briefing sessions and invite them to supply you with any relevant documentation to include in your information pack.

This guidance deals specifically with the risk of electoral fraud in relation to election processes. Information on dealing with integrity issues related to fraudulant registration or absent vote applications can be found in the ERO guidance:

Identifying suspicious registration applications in England, Scotland and Wales

Identifying suspicious absent vote applications in England, Scotland and Wales

Offences

There are a number of electoral offences specified in electoral law. Our guidance for candidates and agents provides information on these offences

Dealing with allegations of financial offences

Candidates and their agents must follow rules set out in legislation about how much they can spend at an election. We produce guidance for candidates and agents, parties and non-party campaigners outlining rules on spending. 

Any queries on election spending should be referred to the Electoral Commission’s Party Election Finance team via email: pef@electoralcommission.org.uk or telephone: 0333 103 1928
 

Last updated: 7 February 2024

Assessing and managing the risk of electoral fraud

Although there are no definitive signs of possible electoral fraud, you will need to have in place mechanisms to identify any patterns of activity that might indicate potential electoral fraud. You should be aware of and consider all the data which is available to you, including whether there:

  • have been unusual patterns of rejected ballot papers, including rejected postal ballot packs, at previous elections
  • are any unusual patterns of registration or absent vote applications in the period leading up to the election

We also have further guidance on identifying suspicious:

You are uniquely placed to identify incidents and patterns of activity that might indicate electoral fraud in your area. Taking early action to address possible fraud could help to avoid costly police investigations or legal challenges to the results of elections. 

You should ensure that you have mechanisms in place to assess the risk of electoral fraud in your area, including considering:

  • whether there has been a history of allegations of electoral fraud in the area 
  • whether the election is likely to be particularly close and hard fought
  • whether it is a marginal seat, which would need only a relatively small swing in the number of votes to change control
  • whether there is a contest based on strong personal disagreements as well as political arguments
  • risks where there is a highly mobile population with a frequent turnover of electors
  • risks where there are electors who may be more vulnerable because of low levels of literacy and/or English language ability
Last updated: 31 May 2023

Planning your approach to maintaining the integrity of the election

You should have in place plans and processes to maintain the integrity of the election. 

Your plans should be developed in consultation with the police single point of contact (SPOC). The plans should include:

  • how you will work with the local police and the SPOC, outlining the division of responsibilities so that there is clarity about each other’s roles, clear lines of communication and agreement how regularly you would expect to be in contact 
  • how you will communicate your approach to maintaining electoral integrity with stakeholders and electors, in order to support public confidence in the election
  • mechanisms for monitoring indicators of possible electoral fraud and thresholds for action in response
  • specific steps to deal with any potential electoral fraud such as:
  • an agreed approach for referring allegations of fraud for further investigation where appropriate
  • establishing a process for handling evidence, so that the police can carry out any forensic analysis
  • any specific risks you have identified in addition to any general fraud detection plans

Specific risks might include the risks associated with houses of multiple occupation such as student halls of residence or care homes where other people may have access to personal mail or where care givers may assist residents in care homes with completing postal vote applications or postal votes.

Making plans to ensure the security of papers

Your project plan should include a review of security arrangements with the local police to ensure the security of ballot papers throughout the process.

Your security arrangements should prevent unauthorised access to or use of the ballot papers during all stages of the production process and storage between printing and the poll.

Whichever method of storage you choose, it should be such that you can be satisfied that you have taken all necessary steps to ensure that ballot boxes and other items are kept securely at all times and cannot be interfered with.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Security considerations at the verification and count

You should consider the security risks of the verification and count as part of your integrity planning and include them on your risk register. Security risks may vary within the electoral area and you may need to take a different approach in particular instances. You should consider liaising with your local police single point of contact (SPOC) when deciding on the most appropriate method for transporting and ensuring secure storage of ballot boxes and other materials

We have developed a template risk and issues register that you can use to record any risks you identify. It contains examples that you will need to consider and, if necessary, mitigate, as well as a log to record any issues that emerge and that you will need to address. Alternatively, you may wish to include risks including our examples in any risk management documentation you have already developed.

At the count venue, you should arrange to have robust arrangements in place to check in all the materials and paperwork delivered to ensure that nothing is missing.
 
You need to decide how the ballot papers and other materials will be kept secure once they arrive at the verification and count venue, for example, by ensuring they are never left unattended. 

You should also take all necessary steps to ensure the security of ballot boxes and relevant stationery from the close of poll through to the declaration of the result, particularly where there is a break in proceedings

Where there is a pause in proceedings for the whole or any part of the period between 7pm and 9am the next day, you have a legal duty to place the documents under your seal and to take proper precautions for the security of the papers and documents. You should liaise with your SPOC on this.

You will need to have contingency arrangements in place in the event of any evacuation from any premises and consider how you will ensure the security of the ballot boxes and other materials.

You should also brief candidates and agents about your security arrangements, so that they can have confidence in the integrity of the count.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Working with your single point of contact officer

Every UK police force has a named single point of contact (SPOC) officer for election-related crime. Your local police force SPOC will be a key partner to help you to ensure that any possible integrity issues are quickly identified and dealt with. 

You should make contact with your named SPOC at the outset of your election planning process. Once established, you should maintain this contact throughout the election period. If you have any problems establishing contact with your SPOC, please contact your local Commission team.

Your discussions should cover your plans for maintaining the integrity of the election and your mechanisms for identifying possible issues and what actions should be taken where any suspicions arise. 

A checklist of topics that should be considered at any pre-election planning meeting between you and your SPOC is available to support your discussions. 

You should agree an approach with your SPOC for referring allegations of fraud you may receive for further investigation where appropriate. For example, will you be the initial point of contact and refer allegations to the SPOC, or will they be the initial point of contact and advise you of allegations? 

You should also agree a mechanism for handling evidence, so that the police can carry out any forensic analysis, where necessary. The College of Policing Authorised Professional Practice have provided guidance to local authorities for handling evidence.

In addition, you should take all necessary steps to ensure that police officers (which can, in England and Wales, include police community support officers) attend at polling stations or call in during polling day, as appropriate, and discuss any security issues relating to any other aspects of the process including community safety for voters.

You may also decide to undertake joint publicity work with the police to support your work in maintaining the integrity of the election. For example, you could collaborate on running public awareness campaigns within the electoral area to highlight what can be done to help detect and prevent electoral fraud. 

In England and Wales, a template memorandum of understanding between the Returning Officer and the police on the joint planning for elections and the reporting and investigating of electoral malpractice is available on the College of Policing Authorised Professional Practice website.

Police Scotland have provided guidance for Police Officers on preventing and detecting electoral fraud in Scotland.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Dealing with allegations of electoral fraud

It is important that once you have put in place your plans for monitoring and maintaining the integrity of the election in your area you offer clear advice to candidates, agents and electors on how to make allegations to ensure an effective and consistent approach is taken to managing them.  

You should ensure that all candidates and agents understand:

  • how to raise specific concerns about electoral fraud relating to the election
  • what type and level of evidence will be necessary to enable allegations to be investigated by the police
  • how allegations will be dealt with
  • what information and feedback they should be able to expect about the progress of any investigations 

The police will investigate any allegations of fraud until, following consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) or, in Scotland, with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), they are either satisfied that no further action is necessary or appropriate, or they forward the case file to the CPS or COPFS for prosecution. The police should keep you and, where appropriate, the ERO informed of the progress of the case.

The Commission and the National Police Chiefs’ Council (formerly the Association of Chief Police Officers) have supported the College of Policing to produce a manual of guidance for policing elections in England and Wales. Police Scotland, in consultation with the Electoral Commission and the Electoral Management Board for Scotland (EMB), has produced a guidance document for police officers in Scotland on preventing and detecting electoral fraud.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Code of conduct for campaigners

Following consultation with Returning Officers, police forces and political parties, the Commission has produced a Code of Conduct for campaigners at elections and referendums. The code applies to all campaigners and sets out agreed standards of appropriate behaviour before and during an election or referendum.

The Code also makes it clear that if an (A)RO considers it appropriate to address further specific local risks, and has consulted with the relevant national and local parties, we will support them in introducing additional local provisions which go beyond the terms of the nationally agreed code.

The Code also covers the requirement for photographic identification to be shown at polling stations. We consulted with the political parties that sit on the Westminster Parliamentary Parties Panel on this update to the code.

Postal vote handling

This guidance will be updated with the Postal Vote Handling measures from the Elections Act once the secondary legislation has been laid and processes finalised. We will confirm when this will be published via the EA Bulletin.

Last updated: 20 December 2023

Planning for communication activity

As RO, it is part of your role to ensure that everyone who wants to participate in the election is able to access clear information to enable them to do so. 

This section contains guidance to support the development of your plans for communicating with a range of audiences in advance of and during the election period. 

It includes guidance on public awareness activities to both encourage participation and to ensure that electors have the information they need in advance of polling day to assist them in ensuring they know what they need to do to vote.

It also contains guidance on planning your engagement with candidates and agents to support their participation in the election. Early engagement is key to ensuring everyone has a good understanding the requirements of candidature, and resulting obligations during an election. 

Finally, it contains guidance to support your plan for communicating with the media and other stakeholders.

General guidance for EROs on working with partners is contained in our guidance for EROs.
 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Engaging with voters

You must take appropriate steps to encourage the participation of electors in the election, and in carrying out such activity you must have regard to any guidance issued by the Electoral Commission.1  Part of this engagement activity should include how you will communicate the voting process and support available for disabled voters. This should be both directly with local disability organisations and more general signposting to accessible communications, such as providing online versions of documents that are easy-read, compatible with screen-readers, or available in large print.

Where you are not also the ERO, you should liaise with them to ensure that all of your activities are aligned and are designed to maximise impact ahead of the registration deadline. For more information on engagement as an ERO see our guidance on your public engagement strategy and registration plan.

Your activity and messaging should aim to ensure that everyone who wants to vote has the information to do so, and can vote using their preferred method. All outgoing communications should provide appropriate contact details to allow anyone to respond and obtain further information.

When planning your activity you should consider and document:

  • the identification of your target audience
  • the objectives and success measures of the activity 
  • any risks –and mitigation of those risks
  • resources – both financial and staffing
  • plans for collaborative working with relevant local partners, including experts in the communications department of the local authority

Cross-boundary constituencies

Where your constituency covers more than one local authority area you should ensure that you liaise with the ERO and elections staff from the other local authority/authorities to develop a coordinated plan for public awareness activity across the constituency.

Engaging with voters

You should identify the most effective methods to ensure your public awareness activity reaches as wide an audience as possible and that it provides essential information electors need to enable them to take part in the election. You should use your website, social media and traditional methods such as notice boards to communicate this information. 

Information required by electors in order to successfully participate may include:

  • details of the election itself
  • the date and hours of poll
  • different options for voting (e.g. in a polling station, postal or proxy voting)
  • the location of polling stations
  • any key deadlines (e.g. deadlines for applying for postal or proxy votes)
  • how to register to vote
  • requirement to show an accepted form of photographic ID in order to vote in a polling station
  • how to apply for a postal or proxy vote, including the requirement for ID checks
  • how to return their postal vote (e.g. by post or in person)
  • (for elections on or after 2 May 2024) the number of postal votes that can be handed in by an individual, and the restrictions on who can hand in postal votes.
  • how to apply for a Voter Authority Certificate or Anonymous Elector's Document
  • how to vote (i.e. how to mark the ballot paper)
  • assistance available to electors and how to request reasonable adjustments (e.g. equipment to enable disabled voters to vote independently in the polling station) and how to request information in alternative formats (e.g. braille, easy read, large print)
  • how votes are counted
  • how the result will be made known

In the lead-up to scheduled polls, the Commission may run a public awareness campaign to encourage registration. Such a campaign will usually involve mass media advertising, working with partners and public relations activities. We will also provide resources that can be used locally, such as posters, online banners, template press releases and social media content. 

The Commission provides public awareness resources to support electors in understanding the requirement for photographic ID in relevant election types. This includes resources specifically for different groups who might need greater support to provide acceptable forms of photographic ID.

The Commission will provide a suite of resources which can help you to promote information about the voting process and support available for disabled people, including resources which will signpost to guidance on accessible communications. This information is available with our guidance on Enabling and making voting easier in polling stations.

We will provide you with information on our public awareness campaigns via the EA Bulletin. We also publish a voter registration newsletter, Roll Call, which aims to help local council communications teams stay up-to-date with the latest campaign information and resources. You and your council communications team can sign up to receive the newsletter here.

The Commission also provides absent vote application forms to support electors in the postal and proxy vote application process. 

Enquiries resulting from public awareness activity

You need to consider how you will receive feedback and enquiries from both your general public awareness messaging and more focused activity such as specific assistance available for disabled electors.

While most public enquiries will be easy to manage via your contact centre or support staff you should have a clearly communicated process for reasonable adjustment requests.

Requests may include making polling station notices available in braille, easy read or in a pictorial format, or different types of equipment or support to enable a person to vote independently in a polling station such as audio devices or hearing induction loops.

Staff dealing with these types of enquiries will need to be trained to understand the barriers that voters may face, the different types of alternative formats for information that are available and the types of equipment that you provide in polling stations.

More guidance on managing requests for additional support and equipment to voters is available. 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Production and publication of notices

When you are required to publish notices you should post them in conspicuous places within the electoral area. This should include local authority offices, noticeboards, libraries and other public buildings. The notice may also be given in such other manner as you think fit.1  

In order to ensure that voters can receive the information they need, in an accessible format and within time for them to cast their vote, you should ensure that information on the poll, including the notice of election and notice of poll, are easily accessible to voters, such as through the local authority website.

If you are making information available on your website you should ensure it is accessible to all voters. For example, if you are providing information in PDF format, you should be aware that if certain steps are not followed when creating PDFs they may not be compatible with screen readers and other assistive technologies. The UK Government has produced a guide to producing accessible PDFs you can refer to. You could also speak to your authority’s equalities officer for advice. 

You should have robust proof-checking processes in place to ensure that there are no errors on the notices you are required to publish. Having robust proof checking processes in place could help detect any errors and avoid any potential data breaches before they occur.

Guidance on the design of voter forms and notices

The Commission’s Making your mark guidance is focused on the design of usable and accessible forms and notices that put voters’ needs first and enable them to vote confidently, according to their intentions. It provides guidance based on accepted industry good practice and findings from research with the public.

Translation and formats of notices

You are required, where you consider it appropriate to do so, to ensure that notices are translated or provided in another format. You may produce them:2

  • in Braille 
  • in languages other than English (or in Wales, English and Welsh) 
  • using graphical representations
  • in audio format3  
  • using any other means of making information accessible 

The nomination form and the ballot papers cannot be produced in any other language or format. However, both the enlarged hand-held and display copies of the ballot papers to be displayed in polling stations must have the instructions for voters printed at the top of the paper, and these words may be translated into languages other than English or, in Wales, English and Welsh.4  

Data protection considerations 

In accordance with data protection legislation, you will need to consider whether it is appropriate or necessary for the notices to remain published, on your website or elsewhere, beyond the expiry of the petition period for that election. Where the notices serve specific purposes, i.e. advising who will be a candidate at the election, once the election is over, and the opportunity to question that election has passed, they serve no further purpose. You should either remove the notices, or remove the personal data contained in the notices, once the petition deadline for the election has passed.

Data protection legislation does permit personal data to be stored for longer periods if the data will be processed solely for archiving purposes in the public interest, or for scientific, historical, or statistical purposes and subject to the implementation of appropriate safeguards. For notices of election results, for example, you should retain these on your website as they are for public interest and historical and statistical purposes.

You can find more information in our data protection guidance.
 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Providing information to electors on polling station locations

Where is my polling station? is a common question in the run-up to polling day and on polling day itself. 

In partnership with Democracy Club, we provide a postcode search tool on our website. When voters enter their postcode they are shown where their polling station is, and who their candidates are. You could embed this tool on your own website, using the widget, or add a link to our website. 

To facilitate this, we need you to send the polling station data for your area to Democracy Club. Once you have finalised your polling stations ahead of the election you can export the data from your EMS and email it to pollingstations@democracyclub.org.uk. Detailed instructions are available for each supplier, if you need them.

We also provide your contact details in our postcode search tool. If your contact details change, we ask that you let us know as soon as possible so that we can update our records. 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Providing information to political parties, candidates and agents

Briefings

You should ensure that you offer all potential candidates and agents a briefing session before or at the start of the nomination period. You should also hold an additional briefing session after the list of candidates standing for election has been confirmed after the close of nominations.

As a minimum, your briefing should cover:

You will also need to decide how information about local arrangements will be provided. This will include information on the dates, times and venues for the  key election processes including:

  • postal vote issues and openings
  • polling day
  • the verification and count 

The briefings should allow for the fact that there may be people who have little or no knowledge of election rules and procedures or who have not involved themselves in elections for some time. 

All briefing sessions should highlight the importance of following the election rules. You should also provide information on the standards of behaviour you expect from supporters in the area of the polling place on polling day.

We have produced a template presentation for candidates and agents, which you may want to use as a basis for briefing candidates and agents in your area.

Providing written information 

You should ensure that candidates and election agents are also issued with written guidance on the election process and that the information is provided in good time to enable candidates and agents to act on it. 

The purpose of providing written guidance is so that parties, candidates and agents have access to authoritative and comprehensive guidance for reference at any time to ensure that they have all the information they need to take part in an election. 

Where appropriate, you can provide candidates and agents with a link to where they can find the relevant information online and it will be for you to ensure that candidates can easily access the information they need and to do whatever is necessary to facilitate this.

Accessibility 

You should ensure that candidates and agents can easily access all the information they need in order to be able to participate in the election.

You should bear in mind that candidates and agents may have specific access needs, and so may need any information or guidance produced in a large-print or other format, such as Braille or audio, or in a language other than English (or, in Wales, in a language other than English or Welsh). 

You should also consider that candidates and agents may have special requirements to support their attendance at briefings and you should make briefings available online or via video conference wherever possible. 

You can record your briefing and make this available online for candidates and agents to watch on demand at their convenience, with details of how they can ask any follow up questions afterwards included.

However, you will also need to consider how you will offer briefings to those who are unable to, or uncomfortable with, accessing such information online, which may require you to provide some in-person briefings. You should inform candidates and agents of your proposed approach early to assist with your planning and preparation. Those interested in receiving a briefing should be asked to register in advance so that you can track numbers as well as accessibility requirements, which will enable you to tailor your approach and put the appropriate arrangements in place.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Providing information on the nomination process

As (Acting) Returning Officer you are responsible for all aspects of the nomination process at a UK Parliamentary election.1 It is important to raise awareness of the availability of information for those wishing to stand for election through the provision of briefings and online or printed guidance, especially for those who have not made direct contact with you or your staff. 

When providing information or briefing sessions about the nomination process you should ensure you include information on:

Questions of eligibility or disqualification are for the candidate only and you should not give advice on such matters. The candidate should be directed to our guidance for candidates and agents in the first instance. Should they have any further concerns, you should advise them to seek their own legal advice.

Nomination packs

You should prepare a nomination pack for any person who expresses an interest in standing for election.

The nomination pack should contain:

  • a nomination form
  • a home address form
  • a consent to nomination form
  • a form for candidates to give notice of appointment of an election agent
  • forms for candidates or their election agent to give notice of appointment of polling agents, postal voting agents and counting agents
  • a certificate of authorisation to allow a candidate to stand on behalf of a registered political party
  • a form for the candidate of a political party to request the use of an emblem
  • details of how the deposit should be paid, including information on acceptable methods of payment
  • written guidance for candidates and agents covering key aspects of the electoral process, including the qualifications and disqualifications for election, the nominations process, campaigning dos and don’ts, accessing electoral proceedings and what happens after the declaration of the result
  • details of any local arrangements, such as the arrangements for the opening of postal votes, the poll and the count 
  • a copy of the Code of conduct for campaigners in Great Britain which sets out what is, and is not, considered acceptable behaviour at polling stations and in the community 
  • details of how to obtain a copy of the electoral register and the absent voters’ lists, forms to make such requests with information on where to send these request forms to. You should highlight that the information contained in the electoral register and absent voting lists may only be used in accordance with the Representation of the People regulations 2001 and in accordance with data protection legislation.
  • the relevant electorate figures to enable calculation of spending limits
  • any other relevant information

Our guidance for candidates and agents at a UK Parliamentary general election can be found on our website at: http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/i-am-a/candidate-or-agent/uk-parliamentary-general-election-great-britain

Our guidance for candidates and agents at a UK Parliamentary by-election can be found on our website at: http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/i-am-a/candidate-or-agent/uk-parliamentary-by-elections-great-britain 

We have also produced a set of nomination papers that you can include in your nomination packs, which contains the required nomination papers as well as a certificate of authorisation, an emblem request form and an election agent appointment notification form.

Last updated: 28 March 2024

Providing information on accessing the electoral register

Candidates are entitled on written request to the ERO to a free copy of the full register for the electoral area in which they are standing1 .
 
While the legal responsibility for receiving and supplying registers to candidates rests with the ERO for each local authority area, if you are the (A)RO of a constituency which crosses local authority boundaries, you should have in place plans for managing or coordinating requests and supplying copies of the registers to candidates. These plans should ensure that all candidates can be supplied with registers in such a way that they have timely and easy access to them. 

For example, you may consider supplying the registers to UK Parliamentary candidates centrally on behalf of all the EROs, and include a request form in the nomination pack that covers all local authority areas that are part of the constituency. The benefit of this approach is that it could operate so that candidates or election agents only need to complete one request form covering all local authority areas and receive their registers from a single place, instead of having to approach each ERO separately with individual requests. 

You would need to also consider the practicalities of collating the registers and, in particular, the updates to the register. You would need to discuss and agree with the EROs how the various registers and updates to them could be brought together for subsequent timely supply, including how this would work for both printed and data copies. The registers must be supplied in data form unless a printed copy has been specifically requested.

We have produced template electoral register and absent voter list request forms that candidates can use. 

 

Further information about candidate’s entitlement to the register and absent votes list can be found in our guidance for candidates and agents.

Last updated: 8 February 2024

Providing information on key election processes

As part of your plans for engaging with candidates and agents and supporting their participation in the election, you will need to determine how information about local arrangements will be provided to candidates. 

Local arrangements will include information on the dates, times and venues for the key election processes, including:

  • postal vote issue and openings
  • polling day
  • equipment provided to polling stations to make voting easier for disabled voters
  • the verification and count 

As well as communicating your local arrangements, you should provide candidates and agents information on the requirement to show photographic ID at the polling station before a ballot paper is issued:

  • accepted forms of photographic ID
  • how electors who do not have an accepted form of photographic ID can apply for a Voter Authority Certificate or an Anonymous Elector's Document
  • the polling station process in respect of the identification requirement

Your briefing session(s) should also highlight any security arrangements that you have put in place in consultation with the police. You may wish to invite your police single point of contact (SPOC) to attend any briefing sessions, or to provide written material that you can provide to candidates and agents.

Additional security guidance for candidates and agents is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/security-guidance-for-may-2021-elections.

You should also cover what standards of behaviour you expect from supporters in the area of the polling place on polling day and, for elections on or after 2 May 2024, the rules around the handling of postal votes.

The College of Policing Authorised Professional Practice have produced guidance on Maintaining order and preventing undue influence outside polling stations. This document is designed to help the police think about how best to approach the issue of policing polling stations and offers some practical steps to help them reduce the likelihood of problems arising and deal with any that occur. Although it is aimed at the SPOC it may also be of use to you, particularly in communicating to candidates and agents the standards of behaviour expected from supporters in the area of the polling place. It should be read in conjunction with section 3 of the code of conduct for campaigners: electoral registration, postal voting, proxy voting and polling stations.

 

 

Last updated: 22 March 2024

Providing information on election spending

Candidates are required by law to follow certain rules regarding:

•    how much they can spend
•    who they can accept donations from
•    what they must report after the election 

You should ensure that candidates and election agents have access to information on calculating the spending limit1 (including the electorate figure and whether the constituency is a county or borough constituency), spending returns and declarations in order to enable them to meet reporting requirements. 

Further information on the two types of constituency can be found here.

At a general election, candidates will need the total number of electors on the UK Parliamentary register for the constituency on the last day for the publication of the notice of election (i.e. on the second day after the writ is received) excluding any attainers who will not be 18 years old on or before polling day. 

If you are not also the Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) or your constituency crosses local authority boundaries, you should liaise with the relevant ERO(s) so that you are able to provide candidates with an accurate electorate figure that will allow them to calculate their spending limits. It is important that candidates are provided with the correct electorate figures so that they know how much they can spend. 

We have produced guidance on spending and donations at UK Parliamentary general elections which can be found in Part 3 of our guidance for candidates and agents . Our template presentation for candidates and agents also contains guidance on spending and donations. You can use these resources to provide candidates and agents with information on spending returns and declarations in order to enable them to meet their reporting requirements.

UK Parliamentary By-Elections

For by-elections, the slides on spending will need to be amended to reflect the different regulated period and spending limits that apply to by-elections.

The spending limit for candidates during the regulated period at a UK Parliamentary by-election is £100,000.

The regulated period begins on the day after the date the candidate officially becomes a candidate and ends on the date of the poll.

A person officially becomes a candidate at a UK Parliamentary by-election at the time the vacancy occurred if on or before this date they have already declared that they are intending to be a candidate at the election (or another person has declared that the person is intending to be a candidate).2

If after this date they or others declare that they will be a candidate at the election, they will become a candidate on the date such a declaration is made, or on the date that they submit their nomination papers, whichever is the earlier.

For further information, see also our guidance for candidates and agents at UK Parliamentary by-elections.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Working with the media

The media plays an important role in providing information to voters on the election and it is important for your communications with media outlets and representatives to be well-planned and managed in order to maintain public confidence that the election is being well-run. 

To achieve this effectively, there should be a clear process in place for communications relating to the poll in each constituency to be followed by you and, in the case of cross-boundary constituencies, the relevant staff at the other authority, and your respective communications team(s) to respond to any issues that arise.

Your arrangements for working with the media should include:

  • processes for dealing with general media enquiries
  • strategies for dealing with both proactive communication and media liaison in relation to specific events such as the counting of votes and result declaration
  • plans for reactive handling of any issues that arise in relation to the election, for example allegations of electoral fraud

Media attendance at the count

When developing your plan for how you will support media attendance at the count you should consider:

  • contacting principal broadcast organisations in advance and outlining the press facilities available 
  • providing an opportunity for media representatives to inspect the verification and count venue to see what space and facilities are available, to give them the opportunity to raise any issues or technical requirements with you so you can incorporate these into your planning for venue layout 
  • discussing arrangements for the declaration of results 
  • arranging for sound systems to be used for the announcements and for any live feeds
  • making accreditation arrangements for journalists, technicians and photographers attending and providing media passes
  • ensuring that there is a nominated media spokesperson in place for the count, and that everyone is aware who this is and that all media questions should be directed to that person
  • making sure that the media are aware of any restricted areas and procedures e.g. that camera operators are aware they must not overview sensitive information (such as close-ups of ballot papers) or obstruct count staff
  • ensuring that the council’s public relations team are present to deal with media enquiries. You should make sure that they know who to approach if they are asked any technical electoral questions
  • explaining the processes to be followed and the expected finish and declaration times for each poll
  • putting steps in place to enable you to provide media representatives with a written copy of the results at the time the announcement is made 

In order to assist you and your communications team further with media liaison at the count, we have developed some tips for managing the media at the count tips for managing the media at the count.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Accredited Observers and Commission representatives

Observers accredited by the Commission are entitled to observe: 

  • the issue and receipt of postal ballot papers
  • the poll
  • the verification and counting of the votes1  

Your project plan should include processes to manage potential enquiries from observers and to support their attendance at the electoral processes they are entitled to attend. This should include providing observers with information on the location and timing of the above processes.

Commission representatives are also entitled to observe these processes and, in addition, are entitled to observe your working practices.2  

Accredited observers and Commission representatives do not need to give advance notification of where they intend to observe, but will carry with them a photographic identification card issued by the Commission.

Quick guide to the observer badge types

Observer badge type Who are they? Access
Electoral Commission representatives Same as candidates and agents, plus access to the issue of postal votes, and working practices of the (A)RO and ERO
 
Observers accredited by the Commission
Same as candidates and agents, plus access to the issue of postal votes

If you are in doubt about the status of a particular individual seeking to gain access to election processes, you can check the registers of observers on the Commission’s website

You have a legal duty to have regard to the Commission’s Code of practice for observers when managing the attendance of observers.3 Observers will have agreed to comply with the standards of behaviour set out in the Commission’s Code of practice. If you think there has been a breach of the Code of practice, please inform your local Commission team.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Resources for (Acting) Returning Officers - Planning for the election


Observers at UK elections booklet - We are updating this resource to reflect new measures introduced by the Elections Act 2022. It will be available again once the updates have been completed.

Polling station handbook - UK Parliamentary election - We are updating this resource to reflect new measures introduced by the Elections Act 2022. It will be available again once the updates have been completed.  

Polling station quick guide - UK Parliamentary election - We are updating this resource to reflect new measures introduced by the Elections Act 2022. It will be available again once the updates have been completed. 

Last updated: 10 April 2024

Voter Materials

Voter Materials

It is vital to the delivery of the election that voters can receive the information they need, without errors, in an accessible format and within time for them to take necessary action in relation to their vote. 

This guidance provides an overview of the legal requirements relating to poll cards, postal vote stationery and ballot papers, and of the areas where you have discretion regarding design and the information to be included on these materials. 

It also includes information to help you quality-assure the process of producing voter materials, including guidance on proof-checking and on working with suppliers and contractors. 
 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Production of poll cards

Poll cards must follow the prescribed form in legislation. You must include on each poll card all of the elements specified in the relevant election rules and shown on the front and the back of the poll cards in the appendix to the Representation of the People Regulations 2001 (as amended).1  

You should liaise with your Royal Mail contact (or other commercial delivery partner) at an early stage to ensure that you have appropriate licences in place and that the poll card meets specific delivery requirements.

Poll cards should be sent to electors and their proxies as soon as practicable after the publication of notice of election. If you are outsourcing the production of poll cards you will need to dispatch your poll card data to your printers and you should ensure that your software is able to produce a data file that your printers can use to produce the materials to the specification required. 

You should, at an early stage in discussions with your printers, have addressed in what format you will supply the data and in what format they will send you any proofs, and this should be included in your specification and contract.

Further information can be found in our guidance on developing contracts for outsourced work and quality assurance checks.

Subsequent issues of poll cards

EROs must publish two interim election notices of alteration before publishing the final election notice of alteration on the fifth working day before the poll. These notices support the prompt dispatch of poll cards to those electors who have applied to register close to the registration deadline.2 The first interim notice of alteration must be published on the last day for delivery of nomination papers, which is 4pm on the nineteenth working day before the poll.3

If you are not also the ERO, you should liaise with them to ensure that the timing of the publication of the second interim notice can support the production of your second wave of poll cards. The second interim notice must be published between the day after the deadline for delivery of nomination papers and the sixth working day before the poll.4  

An update of the registration data resulting from each of the notices of alteration should be sent to your printers as soon as practicable to enable the production of poll cards for new electors. 

Further information on interim notices can be found in our Electoral Registration Officer guidance for England, Scotland or Wales

You can also find further guidance on poll card delivery

Cross-boundary constituencies

If, as (A)RO, you are responsible for a constituency that crosses local authority boundaries, you will need to work with other local authorities to ensure you are able to provide the data from the other authority/authorities to the printers. You should also liaise with them to obtain the information on new electors as soon as possible after the publication of the interim notices of alteration and the final election notice of alteration.

Last updated: 1 February 2024

Production of postal voting stationery

As part of your planning, you will have decided whether the production of postal voting stationery and the issuing of postal votes will be carried out in-house or outsourced. 

Further guidance to support your decision-making on outsourcing can be found in our guidance on managing contractors and suppliers.
 

Cross-boundary constituencies

If, as (A)RO, you are responsible for a constituency that crosses local authority boundaries you will need to establish whether your software system is able to correctly read the data provided by the other authority/authorities.

You will also need to ensure you are able to get the data to printers for the production of the postal voting stationery. You will need to liaise with the other authority/authorities at the earliest opportunity.

Contents of postal ballot pack

Contents of postal ballot pack

You must send a postal ballot pack to all eligible postal voters.1  Postal ballot packs must include:2  

  • an outgoing envelope 
  • return envelopes: envelope ‘A’ (the ballot paper envelope) and envelope ‘B’ (the covering envelope for the return of envelope ‘A’ and the postal voting statement)
  • a ballot paper 
  • a postal voting statement 

In addition you must issue instructional information ensuring that those entitled to vote by post are able to obtain:3  

  • translations into other languages of any directions to or guidance for voters sent with the ballot paper
  • a translation into Braille of such directions or guidance
  • a graphical representation of such directions or guidance
  • the directions or guidance in any other form (including any audible form)
Last updated: 19 December 2023

Postal ballot pack envelopes

You must address the outgoing envelope to the elector at the address they have asked for their ballot paper to be sent to and which is shown in the postal voters’ list or the postal proxy voters’ list.1  

To preserve the secrecy of the ballot, you must provide two separate envelopes provided for returning the ballot paper and the postal voting statement:2  

  • Envelope ‘A’ – this is the envelope for the return of the ballot paper, which is to be marked with the letter ‘A’, the words ‘ballot paper envelope’ and the number of the ballot paper. 
  • Envelope ‘B’ – this is the covering envelope for the return of the ballot paper envelope (envelope ‘A’) and the postal voting statement. It is to be marked with the letter ‘B’ and your address. 

You should print the name of your constituency on all ‘A’ and ‘B’ envelopes. This will help to reduce instances of postal votes becoming undeliverable if, for example, a voter returns the ‘A’ envelope with both the ballot paper and postal voting statement inside it, without putting it in the ‘B’ envelope.

Envelopes for anonymous electors

Whenever you communicate with an anonymous elector you are required to send the communication in an envelope or other form of covering in such a way that does not disclose to any other person that the voter has an anonymous entry. 

You should therefore send postal ballot packs to anonymously registered electors in a plain outgoing envelope.3 The envelope should include their name and correspondence address, but must not include their elector number or make any reference to the election or electoral register.

Postage costs

Unless you are delivering postal votes by hand, you are required to pre-pay postage on the outgoing envelope addressed to the postal voter. 
You are also required to pre-pay postage on all return envelopes, except where postal votes have been sent to an address outside of the UK.4  

You should, however, explore with Royal Mail and the printer what you can do to facilitate the timely return of completed postal ballot packs from outside the UK, including the potential for the inclusion of appropriate pre-paid postage for items being returned from overseas. 

You could decide to use a different design of envelope for postal votes being sent to an address which is outside the UK. For example you could add a different colour flash. This may facilitate more efficient sorting, identification and prioritisation of overseas postal votes. 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Postal ballot paper, postal voting statement, and additional instructions to voters

Postal ballot paper

The form of the ballot paper is prescribed in legislation and you have a legal duty to follow this precisely.1 Further information can be found in our guidance on the printing of ballot papers

Postal voting statement 

The postal voting statement is set out in the legislation and must be produced in the prescribed form.2 The postal voting statement must include:

  • the voter’s name (unless they are an anonymous elector) 
  • the number of the ballot paper being issued with the statement  
  • a unique identifying mark, which could be a barcode but could also be in another format - this mark does not have to be connected to the unique identifying mark on the ballot paper; it may be the same but equally it could be different or connected 
  • the prescribed instructions to the voter on how to vote by post

The postal voting statement also contains space for a barcode.

You must produce different forms of the postal voting statement for anonymous electors and for those who have been granted a waiver. The postal voting statement for anonymous electors must not show the name of the elector.
 
Where an elector has been granted a waiver by the ERO, you are required by legislation to omit the signature box and any reference to signing the form in the instructions to voters.

You should also design and test the postal vote statements to ensure that the signature and date of birth fields are in the correct place and format to be able to be processed on their return by your personal identifier verification system.

Additional instructions to voters

In addition to the prescribed content of the postal ballot pack as above, you should provide additional, more specific instructions - for example, graphical instructions for voters to help them complete the statement and ballot paper and return their postal vote stationery in the correct envelopes and information on the postal vote handing in process (for polls on or after 2 May 2024).
 
You should include the information that you must provide to postal voters on how to obtain instructions in alternative formats e.g. alternative languages, braille, and audio.
 
As part of these instructions, you should also include information explaining the personal nature of the vote, setting out that it is secret and that anyone interfering with the voter marking their vote or attempting to obtain information about who they are voting for would be committing an offence. As well as information on how to report any concerns or suspected instances of electoral fraud. 

Last updated: 28 March 2024

Production of ballot papers

You have a legal duty to follow precisely the design and print specifications of ballot papers prescribed in legislation. 

By law, ballot papers for postal voters and for polling station use must be the same in design and size, except that the official mark may be different if desire.1   

You should ensure that you check with your print supplier at an early stage to establish the maximum size of ballot paper that they can print and, if necessary, have contingency arrangements in place in the event that a larger ballot paper is required.2  

The final content of the ballot paper cannot be confirmed until nominations have closed, but you will need to make decisions about the following elements of the ballot paper specification at an early stage:

  • the format of the ballot paper numbers
  • the form of the reverse of the ballot paper
  • the unique identifying mark
  • the design of the ‘official mark’
  • what colour the ballot papers will be

 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Print quantities

In your early discussions with your print supplier you must carefully consider the number of ballot papers that will need to be printed to allow you to allocate a sufficient number of ballot papers to polling stations and issue postal ballot packs. This will also enable sufficient paper stocks to be procured. 

You should base your print-run on 100% turnout of eligible electors. There are significant risks attached to printing ballot papers based on lower turnout levels. For example, if you start running out of ballot papers on polling day it will be more difficult at that stage to print additional ballot papers and send these to the affected polling stations in a timely manner. 

If you decide for any reason not to print ballot papers based on 100% turnout of eligible electorate, you should carefully assess the risks.

As part of your risk assessment you should consider:

  • turnout projections for the poll, taking into account the potential for late engagement and interest - the last equivalent poll should be used as the minimum expected turnout
  • the particular context of the poll
  • any local or national issues which may affect turnout
  • whether having a stock of additional ballot papers ready for rapid delivery to polling stations is preferable, for example printing a minimum of 100% of ballot papers but not issuing 100% of printed ballot papers to polling stations 

You should also take steps to ensure that additional ballot papers can be printed at short notice if required and decide how polling station staff would be briefed should this situation occur. 

Guidance on the allocation of ballot papers to polling stations can be found in our guidance on polling station voting.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Ballot paper design

Ballot paper numbers

Ballot paper numbers should run consecutively, but do not have to start at ‘1’. Ballot paper numbers should be unique, and should not be reused, for example the polling station, postal vote and tendered ballot papers should all be numbered differently. 

Form of the reverse of the ballot paper

The form of the reverse of the ballot paper is prescribed and you must ensure that the required information is included on the ballot paper reverse in the specified format.1 There is no provision to put any hatching or other marks on the back of the ballot paper. 

Unique identifying mark (UIM)

The unique identifying mark can be made up of letters and numbers and could be a repeat of the ballot paper number with the addition of a prefix or a suffix. The unique identifying mark can instead be, but does not have to be, a barcode. It is important to remember that the unique identifying mark is not the same as the official mark. 

The unique identifying mark:2  

  • should be unique for each ballot paper
  • can be re-used at the next poll
  • must be printed on the back of the ballot paper

The official mark

The official mark is a security mark that must be added to the ballot paper.
 
The official mark:3  

  • can be the same for all ballot papers at an election or different official marks can be used for different purposes at the same election, for example one for postal votes and another for polling station ballot papers
  • cannot be re-used for seven years at a UK Parliamentary election to the same constituency

The mark should be distinctive. It could be a printed emblem or mark or a special printing device such as a watermark. It could also be a perforation added at the time of issue of the ballot paper if stamping instruments are used to create a perforating official mark.  

The mark should be capable of being seen on the front of the ballot paper without having to turn the ballot paper over.4  

Ballot paper colour

The colour of ballot papers is not prescribed and is for you to determine. 

Tendered ballot papers are required by law to be a different colour from the ordinary ballot papers.5  

In deciding on the ballot paper colour you should take into account accessibility issues relating to colour and contrast. See our 'Making your mark’ good practice design guidance for more information on choosing ballot paper colours. 

Cross-boundary constituencies and combinations

You should decide at an early stage in the planning process and in consultation with the local government RO(s) in your constituency, what colour the UK Parliamentary ballot paper will be in your constituency. You should liaise with the other RO(s) in your constituency to ensure that in the event of a combined election the ballot paper colours are different for each election.
 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Candidate details

Candidate name

Candidates must appear on the ballot paper as listed as in the statement of persons nominated. Their names and relevant details must appear according to the directions for printing.1  

Candidate surnames must appear in capital letters, including the capitalisation of surnames beginning with MAC or MC and the names should follow strict alphabetisation e.g. MABBOT, MACLEAN, MATTHEWS, MCCORMICK, MORRISON.
  
Where a candidate has listed multiple names as their surname, either hyphenated or not, you should reproduce the whole name as provided. For example Dick Van Dyke would appear as VAN DYKE, Dick on the ballot paper and for alphabetisation purposes their surname would start with a V.
 
Similarly, Ann Smith-Jones would be SMITH-JONES, Ann on the ballot paper and would be listed as an S for alphabetisation purposes. 
 
In all cases, you should use the maximum possible sizes of font. To ensure consistency, the same font size should be used for each candidate on each equivalent line. 

Emblems

If the candidate is standing for a registered political party and has requested the use of an emblem, you may be provided with a high-resolution copy of the emblem for use in the printing of ballot papers. Alternatively you may need to download the emblem from our website. You should ensure that whatever copy is used is in the same form as the registered emblem. 

The maximum size of an emblem on the ballot paper is two centimetres square.2 Do not alter or distort the shape of the emblem to fit the ballot paper. You should ensure that the emblem is in the same form as the registered emblem – for example, do not stretch emblems into square shapes if they are not registered as square images on our website, as this would have the effect of altering their appearance.
 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Quality assurance and proofing of election materials

It is vital that you undertake careful and thorough checks of all draft proofs of your election materials before they are signed off and ready to be printed and dispatched. This is often a very time-consuming and time-critical stage of the process as your suppliers will be working to tight timetables and will likely give you hard deadlines.

You should decide who from your team will be involved in the checking of proofs and the quality assurance of the production process. It is possible that you will need a number of team members to play a role, and it may be helpful to involve others not as close to the raw candidate information or base proofs to ensure that nothing has been missed.

Where possible, it is helpful to ensure that more than one person checks each set of proofs before approving them to ensure that errors are spotted. This can be especially helpful in mitigating the risk of errors being made when turning around a large number of proofs in a short timeframe. 

You can carry out checks in person by attending the premises of your supplier and accessing your printed material directly, though some suppliers may offer to conduct these checks for you as part of their service instead. 

Where you are using suppliers to conduct checks, you must ensure that you get a detailed breakdown of what print quality checks are being undertaken. These should include:

  • checking that the printed material is accurate by checking against a specimen copy of the final signed off live proof for each version of the material  
  • where necessary, checking that all personalised text has been printed correctly

Alternatively, you may have materials sent to you for checking before they are despatched from your premises. 

You should produce guidance notes for those members of staff checking election materials.

Checking base text

You should ensure that you check the base text of all material carefully; this is the text that will not change, regardless of contest, number or details of candidates, or elector information. 

For efficiency, some suppliers may produce your proofs from templates used for previous polls. Do not presume that the information output by your electoral software management system will automatically be correct. For example, there may have been legislative or boundary changes, or changes to your contact information. It is your responsibility to check that all the information is accurate and also that the election materials comply with all legislative requirements.  

Checking live proofs

You should have in place a process for checking live proofs of all forms of election material at the print stage to check that there are no errors and that they are being printed to the required specification. 

This should include items that have smaller print runs too, such as tendered ballot papers, postal proxies or additional postal vote print runs to include those who applied after the initial data files were provided. 

You need to decide how many items will be checked for each item/print-run/fill. As a minimum, for print checks, at least the first and last item for each version of the item should be checked to ensure that the print runs start and end as expected. 

Carrying out checks at the live proof stage will allow staff to check that the print run reflects the latest approved version of the item which will highlight if any of the signed-off proofs have been inadvertently altered, that there is no bleeding of ink and that the print quality is good and consistent.

You are likely to have many different sets of proofs for the same item, so you should be checking that the variable text on each set of proofs has been correctly included. It is helpful to have a spreadsheet of all the variable text per version ready for checking against. This could include, for example, a sheet containing:

  • a list of all of your contested elections
  • the number of vacancies per election
  • candidate names, descriptions and emblems 

It is important to pay particular attention to emblems as many may look similar at first glance. You should proof any spreadsheets to be used for quality assurance purposes against original data, such as nomination papers.
 
You should keep a record of stationery that has been checked to provide a clear audit trail of the processes that have been undertaken and which you can refer back to should any issues subsequently arise.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Tips for proof checking

When producing guidance to support your staff with proof checking election materials particular attention should be paid to checking that:

  • every detail on all printing materials is spelt correctly
  • electors’ names and addresses are accurate and match those on the electoral register / absent voting lists
  • materials being sent to electors are the correct ones for them (e.g. the ballot paper is the correct one for their electoral area; postal proxies are being sent postal proxy poll cards) 
  • where relevant, the correct deadlines appear (for example, for postal/proxy applications on poll cards)
  • where a form is prescribed, that it meets the prescribed requirements 

 For the ballot paper, you should also check that: 

  • the directions for printing have been followed precisely
  • the official mark and unique identifying mark are correctly printed
  • the ballot paper includes the details of all validly nominated candidates for that particular electoral area; as part of this you should check that:
    • all candidate names (or commonly used name(s) where relevant) are correct
    • where relevant, party names, descriptions and emblems are correct and as registered on the Commission’s register of political parties
    • the instructions at the top of each ballot paper are the correct ones for the electoral area

For the postal voting statement, you should also check that: 

  • the correct ballot paper numbers are printed 
  • the correct voting instructions for the electoral area are included
Last updated: 19 December 2023

Post production quality assurance checks

Once your election materials have been produced, you need to ensure that all materials have been printed, collated and prepared for despatch to electors or for use at polling stations without errors.

Checking filled postal vote packs before despatch

When carrying out quality assurance checks of filled postal ballot packs this should include checking:

  • that ballot paper and PVS numbers align 
  • personalised name/address information appears as expected in windows
  • that each pack contains the correct items - for example check that the correct ballot papers and reply envelope have been included 

You should carry out random spot checks across all packs to ensure a representative cross-section has been checked with at least two packs from each batch of 250 packs (which is roughly the equivalent of a full Royal Mail postal ‘tray’). 

You should also ensure that there are specific checks of any fills that include additional items, such as where a by-election means an additional ballot paper is being included.

You should make sure that you keep a clear audit trail of the proofing and other quality assurance processes that have been undertaken either by your staff or by your supplier which you can refer back to should any issues subsequently arise.  

You can find more guidance to support you in this process in Quality assurance and proof checking of election materials and further guidance on quality assuring the issuing process is available in our section on absent voting. 

Checking ballot paper books before allocation

When you receive the printed ballot paper books, you should carry out a final check before any ballot papers are supplied to a polling station.

When carrying out final quality assurance checks of the printed ballot paper books, you should check that:

  • the first and last ballot paper in every book and by checking that the ballot paper numbers in each book or packet run sequentially
  • every detail on the ballot paper is spelt correctly
  • every emblem that has been validly requested has been included beside the correct candidate and matches the party’s entry in the Commission’s register
  • all candidate descriptions have been printed in the line for the correct candidate
  • the voting instructions at the top of the ballot paper match the legislative requirements
  • the ballot papers have been cut to the correct size
  • the official mark has been included

You can find guidance on the allocation of ballot papers to polling stations in our section on polling station voting. 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Ballot paper security

You must ensure the security of ballot papers during production, delivery and storage. Once the official mark is printed on your ballot papers, they are effectively ‘live’. 

Regardless of whether you have outsourced your printing or are printing in-house, in order to ensure that voters can have confidence in the process, your security arrangements should prevent unauthorised access to or use of the ballot papers. 

These restrictions should apply during all stages of the production process and storage between printing and the poll.

You can find further information in our guidance on planning for ballot paper security.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Starting the election timetable

This section of the guidance covers the statutory actions that must take place to enable the election timetable to formally commence.

This includes:

  • the process for the issue and receipt of the writ 
  • the subsequent publication of the notice of election 
  • the requirement to deliver poll cards as soon as is practicable after the notice of election is published
Last updated: 19 December 2023

The issue and receipt of the writ

A writ requiring the UK Parliamentary election to be run in your constituency will be issued after the dissolution of the UK Parliament. 

The writ will be delivered to the RO unless they have appointed you (the (A)RO) or someone else as their deputy. The writ will be sent to the RO by title, rather than by name.1  

The Clerk of the Crown maintains a list of ROs to whom the writ will be sent. If you, as (A)RO, have been appointed by the RO to receive the writ, the RO must give notice to the Clerk of the Crown on a prescribed form.2  

The writ will usually be delivered by Royal Mail and once it has been issued, your local Royal Mail contact will usually contact the RO or (A)RO to make an appointment for the delivery. It is essential that any changes to the address of the person who will receive the writ are notified to the Clerk of the Crown and the Royal Mail immediately.

Regardless of who receives the writ, a receipt provided by Royal Mail must be completed. This gives the date on which it is received and the name of the officer accepting it. Copies should be taken of the writ and the original kept secure.3

The writ is taken to have been received the day after dissolution of Parliament.4 This allows you to begin making arrangements the day after the election writs are issued, even in the event that the physical delivery of the writ is delayed. The date the writ is taken to have been received affects the UK Parliamentary election timetable. The notice of election must be published no later than 4pm on the second day following the date the writ is taken to have been received.5 The period for delivery of nomination papers will begin from the day after the publication of notice of election. 

UK Parliamentary by-elections

The writ is taken to have been received the day after the issue of the warrant for the writ triggering the by-election timetable, but this timetable is more flexible than the timetable at a general election. This is because at a by-election, the (Acting) Returning Officer has some discretion over the length of the nomination period, which also impacts on polling day. 

The process for receiving the writ is the same at a UK Parliamentary by-election as it is for a general election. However, the timing of the issue of the writ for a by-election is dependent on when a motion is moved in the House of Commons for the issue of the writ. A writ may also be issued in certain circumstances during Parliamentary recess. 

You must fix the date of the poll and the length of the nomination period. The deadline for the receipt of nomination papers cannot be earlier than the third working day after the date of publication of the notice of election and not later than the seventh working day after the writ is received.6  

You should seek to maximise the length of time that candidates have to submit their nomination papers within the limits set by the timetable 

Polling day must not be earlier than the 17th and not later than the 19th working day after the last day for delivery of nomination papers.

If you have a by-election, you should contact your local Commission team who will be able to assist you by checking the election timetable.

The issue and receipt of the writ

We have produced a timetable with all of the relevant deadlines for a UK Parliamentary election, as well as a separate template timetable for a UK Parliamentary by-election. 

Information about endorsing and returning the writ after the declaration of the result can be found in our guidance on Providing notice of the result.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Notice of election

You must publish the notice of election for the constituency by not later than 4pm on the second working day following the receipt of the writ. The notice of election may be published on the same day that the writ is received and should be published as soon as practicable to allow the maximum time for nominations.1  

The notice of election must include the following:2  

  • the place and times at which nomination papers can be delivered, and at which nomination papers may be obtained 
  • the date of the poll if the election is contested
  • where you have decided to accept electronic payments, the arrangements for electronic payment of deposits
  • the date by which applications for absent votes (including emergency proxies) must reach the ERO in order to be effective for the election

The notice of election should also include the date by which applications for registration and Voter Authority Certificates or Anonymous Elector's Documents must reach the relevant ERO in order to be effective for the election.

The address given for the delivery of nomination papers should be exact, and include any room number. This will avoid any doubt should nominations be delivered close to the deadline. You should inform all reception staff at offices of the building and other connected buildings that they should not take receipt of nomination papers. 

We have developed a template notice of election that you can use:

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Poll Card delivery

You must send out poll cards as soon as practicable after the publication of the notice of election.1   

A poll card must be sent to the elector’s qualifying address or, in the case of a proxy, to the proxy’s address as shown in the list of proxies.2    

For anonymous electors, you must send their poll card in a covering envelope to the elector’s qualifying address.3   

In order to ensure that voters receive the information they need and within time for them to cast their vote you should ensure that poll cards can be received by voters as soon as possible, so that they have the maximum amount of time to change their registration details or apply for an absent vote. This could, for example, include publishing the notice of election as soon as the writ is received. Once the notice of election has been published, the poll cards can be issued.

You will need to determine the optimum distribution date for poll cards and you should focus on when electors will expect to receive their poll cards.

Poll cards may be delivered by hand, by post, or by some other method determined by you as the most appropriate.4  

Delivery by hand 

If you deliver poll cards by hand you should plan for how this will work in practice. You should appoint sufficient staff to ensure that voters receive poll cards as soon as possible to maximise the time they have to change registration details or apply for an absent vote. You should clearly set out in your instructions to staff the last day by which you would expect all poll cards to have been delivered.

You should ensure that staff are aware of data protection considerations, and should consider requiring staff to confirm in writing at the point of recruitment, that they will abide by your data protection policy.

You should monitor delivery, to ensure that poll cards have been delivered across the whole of the constituency and to agreed timeframes. This may include requiring delivery staff to fill in log sheets and having supervisors carry out spot-checks.

Delivery by post

You may use Royal Mail or any other commercial delivery firm for the delivery of poll cards. If you deliver poll cards by post, you should liaise with your postal services provider to agree timescales for delivery and obtain any proof of postage that the firm provides.

You should monitor the delivery of poll cards, to ensure that they have been delivered across the whole of the constituency and to agreed timeframes. If possible, you should have arrangements in place to track deliveries to assist with responding to any enquiries from electors. 

Your contingency planning should address how you would issue any poll cards, in the event that Royal Mail or the commercial delivery firm you have contracted are unable to deliver the poll cards, for example, due to industrial action.

Last updated: 26 March 2024
Last updated: 19 December 2023

Nominations

Nominations

As Returning Officer you are responsible for the administration of a nomination process which supports candidates to stand for election and enables them to have confidence in the management of the election.  

The following guidance is designed to support you in the decisions you will need to take to manage the nomination process efficiently and effectively. It includes information on the requirements for nomination including candidate details, deposits and methods of delivery, guidance to support the processing and determining of nominations and guidance on the processes to be followed after the close of nominations such as the publishing of official notices. It also includes information on the actions required following the death of a candidate.

Providing information on the nomination process to candidates and agents

There may be new or less experienced candidates, agents and political parties who are unfamiliar with the practices and processes of standing for election and who will need your support to be able to participate effectively. 

As part of your preparations for the polls, you will have put plans in place to ensure that you offer all potential candidates and agents a briefing session before or at the start of the nomination period, and are also issued with written guidance on the election process in good time to enable them to act on it. Details of what the briefings and written information should include, and links to template briefings, can be found in our guidance on providing information to political parties, candidates and agents.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Forms for nomination

A candidate is deemed to be validly nominated if you have received a deposit of £500 and the following completed forms by the close of nominations (4pm on the 19th working day before the poll for a UK Parliamentary general election or by 4pm on the date fixed by you1 for a UK Parliamentary by-election):2  

  • the nomination form (as prescribed)
  • a home address form
  • a consent to nomination

Political party candidates

If a candidate wishes to stand on behalf of a registered political party then, in addition to the above they must also submit a certificate of authorisation, authorising the use of the party name on the ballot paper (as prescribed), and may also include a written request to use one of the party’s registered emblems if they choose.3  

The party name or description authorised by the certificate must match the party name or description given on the nomination form or the whole nomination will be invalid.4

The party must be registered on the Commission’s register of political parties at http://search.electoralcommission.org.uk and be listed as allowed to field candidates in the part of the UK that they are standing in. 

Production of nomination papers

Nomination papers can only be produced in English or, in Wales, in English and/or Welsh, and not in any alternative languages or formats.5 However, you are required by law to prepare nomination papers for signature if someone requests.6 This means providing all of the documents required for nomination and completing them with all of the information given to you so that only the required signatures need to be added.

We have produced a set of nomination papers, which includes all of these forms that you can provide to candidates. 


Candidates do not have to use the nomination form that you have produced and supplied, as long as their nomination form is as prescribed. 

Last updated: 28 March 2024

Nomination form - the candidates name

The candidate’s full names must be listed on the nomination form, surname first, followed by all of their other names in full.1  

Prefixes and suffixes

The nomination form does not prescribe a space for prefixes or suffixes. 

Candidates should be advised not to use prefixes such as Mr, Mrs, Dr or Cllr, or suffixes such as OBE or MBA as part of their full name. If a prefix or suffix is included as part of the actual name the nomination form would not be invalid as a result, but the prefix or suffix should not be transferred to the statement of persons nominated.  

If a candidate has submitted a nomination form with a prefix or suffix as part of their actual name, you should inform them that it will not appear on the statement of persons nominated, the notice of poll or the ballot paper, but that their nomination as a candidate has not been affected. 

The only exception to this is where a prefix or suffix has been included as part of a commonly used name and that is how the candidate claims to be commonly known. 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Commonly used names

Where a candidate commonly uses a different name from their actual name, or for elections taking place on or after 2 May 2024, commonly uses their names in a different way to those stated on the nomination paper,  they can ask for this to be used instead of their actual name.1

A candidate can request to use a commonly used forename, surname or both. They may also use initials if they are commonly known by them. 

For example, they may be known by their abbreviated name Andy, rather than their full first name Andrew. In that case, they can write Andy into the commonly used forename box on the nomination form if they would prefer that name to appear on the ballot paper.

A candidate with a hyphenated surname may choose to use one part of their surname if this is how they are commonly known. For example, in the case of Andrew Smith-Roberts, he could use Andrew Roberts or Andrew Smith (if either was the name by which he is commonly known).

However, if a candidate has a title, they can use this as their full name. For example, if the candidate’s actual name is Joseph Smith, but their hereditary title is Joseph Avon, they can use the name Joseph Avon as their full name. 

For elections taking place before 2 May 2024, the legislation makes it clear that a commonly used name is one which, as a forename is different from any other forename (whether the first or middle name) of the candidate or, as a surname is different from any other surname of the candidate. If a candidate wishes to use a commonly used forename, this must be different from their actual forename as it appears on the nomination form. If a candidate wishes to use a commonly used surname, this must be different from their actual surname as it appears on the nomination form. 

For example, in the case of Andrew John Smith, he could not use Andrew Smith as his commonly used name, although he would be able to use Andy Smith (if Andy was the name by which he is commonly known). 

The table below sets out a non-exhaustive list of potential variations for elections taking place before 2 May 2024:

Candidate actual nameCommonly used nameDifferent forename from any other forename or surname from any other surname?Acceptable?
Andrew John Smith-JonesAndrew Smith-JonesNoNo – a commonly used name cannot be used to drop a middle name.
Andrew John Smith-JonesJohn Smith-JonesNoNo – a commonly used name cannot be used to drop a first name.
Andrew John Smith-JonesAndy Smith-JonesYesYes - if Andy was the name by which he is commonly known.
Andrew John Smith-JonesJohnny Smith-JonesYesYes - if Johnny was the name by which he is commonly known.
Andrew John Smith-JonesAndrew John SmithYesYes - a candidate with a hyphenated surname may choose to use one part of their surname if this is how they are commonly known.
Andrew John Smith-JonesAndy JonesYesYes - if Andy was the name by which he is commonly known and a candidate with a hyphenated surname may choose to use one part of their surname if this is how they are commonly known.
Andrew John Smith-JonesAJ Smith-JonesYesYes - if AJ are initials by which he is commonly known. 
Andrew John Smith-JonesAndrew J SmithYesYes - if Andrew J was the name by which he is commonly known and a candidate with a hyphenated surname may choose to use one part of their surname if this is how they are commonly known.

For elections taking place on or after 2 May 2024, in addition to candidates using a commonly used name that is different to their actual name, they can also can use a commonly used forename or surname, if they use one or more of their names as given on their nomination paper, in a different manner. If a candidate is commonly known by some of their names, such as a middle name, they may request to use these names on the ballot paper. For example, if Andrew John Smith-Jones is more commonly known as John Smith-Jones, they can ask for this name to be used.

Decisions on Commonly Used Names

It is not for you to decide whether the commonly used name is a name that the candidate commonly uses or whether it meets the legal requirement that a forename needs to be different from any other forename and a surname needs to be different to from any other surname they may have. The law requires you to take whatever has been entered in the commonly used name box at face value and to accept it as the candidate’s commonly used name.

The only grounds you have in law for rejecting a commonly used name is that you consider that:2  

  • its use may be likely to mislead or confuse electors, or
  • it is obscene or offensive

If, for an election taking place before 2 May 2024,at an informal check stage, you are presented with a nomination form that has been completed in such a way that it appears to you that the commonly used name given is not different from any other forename or surname that the candidate has, you should:

  • draw the candidate’s attention to the legal definition of a commonly used name
  • highlight that it is an offence to knowingly make a false statement on the nomination form
  • point out that if a nomination form is not completed in accordance with the law, the candidate will run the risk of challenge if they are elected

It is the candidate’s responsibility to ensure that they have completed their nomination form in accordance with the law and to be satisfied that the given commonly used name is a name that they genuinely commonly use.

In the course of providing informal advice, you may wish to draw the candidate’s attention to our guidance for candidates and agents on commonly used names. 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Reproducing commonly used names on election material

The tables below contains a number of worked examples of various combinations of commonly used names and how this would affect the appearance of the candidate’s name on the statement of persons nominated, the notice of poll and the ballot paper.

For elections taking place before 2 May 2024:

Candidate's actual surnameCandidate's other names in fullCommonly used forenamesCommonly used surnameName to go on statement of persons nominatedName to go on ballot papers
ElectorAnnElsieVoterVoter, ElsieVOTER, Elsie
ElectorAnn[Blank]VoterVoter, AnnVOTER, Ann
ElectorAnnElsie[Blank]Elector, ElsieELECTOR, Elsie
Elector-VoterAnn[Blank]VoterVoter, AnnVOTER, Ann

For elections taking place on or after 2 May 2024:

Candidate's actual surnameCandidate's other names in fullCommonly used forenamesCommonly used surnameName to go on statement of persons nominatedName to go on ballot papers
ElectorAnnElsieVoterVoter, ElsieVOTER, Elsie
ElectorAnn[Blank]VoterVoter, AnnVOTER, Ann
ElectorAnnElsie[Blank]Elector, ElsieELECTOR, Elsie
ElectorAnn JaneAnn[Blank]Elector, AnnELECTOR, Ann
ElectorAnn JaneJane[Blank]Elector, JaneELECTOR, Jane
Elector-VoterAnn[Blank]VoterVoter, AnnVOTER, Ann

For elections taking place either before, on or after 2 May 2024, if either the commonly used forenames or commonly used surname box is left blank, then the candidate’s actual forenames or surname, depending on which commonly used name box has been left blank, will go on the statement of persons nominated and on the ballot paper.

You should advise the candidate that the use of commonly used names applies only to the statement of persons nominated and the ballot paper. The candidate’s actual name should appear on any documents that are required to show the candidate’s name, such as the imprint and candidate’s spending returns.  

If you refuse the use of a commonly used name, the validity of the paper remains unaffected. Instead, the effect is that the candidate's full name will appear on the statement of persons nominated and the ballot paper. This should be made clear to candidates and agents and you must write to the candidate setting out the reasons for refusing to allow the use of the commonly used name.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Nomination form – Subscriber requirements

Nomination forms must include an indication of support for the candidate from 10 electors registered on the UK Parliamentary register in the constituency. These are known as subscribers - the first two are the proposer and seconder, while eight other electors are the assenters to the nomination.1 There is nothing preventing a candidate from subscribing their own nomination provided they are registered in the constituency. 

Each subscriber is required by law to sign the nomination form in the appropriate place and must include their electoral number in the spaces provided alongside their signature, along with the polling district’s identifying letters. 

There is no requirement for a subscriber to print their name on a UK Parliamentary nomination form. 

Once a nomination form has been formally delivered, even if it is later deemed invalid, the signatures of the subscribers will still count towards the one form that the subscriber may subscribe.

If an elector is later removed from the register or dies before the election (or indeed even before the nomination is delivered), their signature remains valid and the nomination is not affected.

A person who is shown on the register as being under 18 years old at the time of nomination can only subscribe a nomination form if they will be 18 years old on or before polling day.

Only the first 10 subscribers on any nomination form can be considered. If more subscribers are included, any subsequent names must not be considered at all. If one of the first 10 subscribers is invalid, irrespective of whether more subscribers have been added to the nomination form, the nomination must be held invalid.

Signatures on nomination forms, once given, cannot be withdrawn by subscribers. If a subscriber contacts you to say that they wish to withdraw their subscription, you should inform that that this is not permitted by law and that the subscription remains valid.

You must reject a nomination if the nomination form is not subscribed as required.2  

Checking subscribers are on the register

Subscribers must appear on the Parliamentary electoral register that is in force on the last day for publication of notice of election (i.e. on the second day after that on which the writ is received). It is essential that the correct version of the register is used for checking that the subscribers are valid. 

An elector must not subscribe more than one nomination form at the Parliamentary election. If they do, their signature will only be valid on the first paper to be delivered to you, even if this was not the first paper that they signed.3  

You should have a robust system in place to ensure that no elector subscribes more than one nomination form. You should use both a hard copy of the register and the electoral management system in order to minimise the risk of missing a subscriber who has subscribed more than one form, and physically mark the hard copy of the register when nominations are formally submitted. 

As you must accept the nomination form at face value, you must accept that the signature made on the nomination form is that of the person listed on the register under the relevant elector number, even if the signature suggests another name. You may draw the attention of the person delivering the paper to the issue if you are concerned, but you must take the elector number and the signature at face value. If after having raised the issue you still have any concerns, you should raise these with your police Single Point of Contact (SPOC). 

Crossed out subscribers’ names 

Occasionally a mistake is made and one or more of the subscribers’ names may be crossed out. If the signature and elector number for a subscriber are clearly crossed out, you should ignore it and treat it as if that row did not appear at all. If asked, you should advise that any crossings out should be clear and, ideally, initialled. 

You should not cross out any entry. If the entry that has been crossed out was that of a proposer or seconder, then the new proposer or seconder must be indicated. Where an entry has been crossed out, the first ten subscribers excluding that entry must still be valid for the nomination to be valid. 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Home address form

Candidates are required to complete a home address form. It must be delivered by hand by the persons who can deliver the nomination form and by the close of nominations. The form is not prescribed but the information that needs to be provided is set out in law.1   

The candidate must state their name and home address on the home address form. The address does not need to be in the constituency in which the candidate intends to stand.

The home address:

  • must be completed in full
  • must not contain abbreviations
  • must be their current home address 
  • must not be a business address (unless the candidate runs a business from their home)

If any detail of the home address is wrong or omitted, the nomination is not automatically invalid if the description of the place is such as to be commonly understood.

The Commission has produced a home address form as part of its set of nomination papers that you can use to provide to candidates and agents. 


The home address form, along with the nomination form, is available for inspection by those people entitled to attend at the delivery of nomination papers. 

Candidates who don’t want their home address published

A candidate may choose for their home address not to be published on the statement of persons nominated or the ballot paper. 

In this case the home address form will contain, as well as the full name and home address:2  

  • a statement, signed by the candidate, which states that they require their home address not to be made public 
  • (for elections taking place before 2 May 2024) if their home address is in the UK, the UK Parliamentary constituency 
  • (for elections taking place on or after 2 May 2024) if their home address is in the UK, the UK Parliamentary constituency or the relevant area in which their home address is situated
  • if they live outside the UK, the country in which their home address is situated

If the candidate chooses not to have their home address appear on the statement of persons nominated and the ballot paper, the constituency in which the candidate’s home address is situated or, if they live outside the UK, the country in which they live must be printed instead.

If by the close of nominations more than one validly nominated candidate has asked for their home address not to be published, you must consider if two or more of them have the same or so similar a name that they are likely to cause confusion. If you consider that this is the case, you may add such details from their home address or nomination form as you consider appropriate to reduce the likelihood of confusion.3
   
Before you make a decision on which details should be included, you must consult the candidate(s) affected, if it is practicable to do so. You must then give notice in writing to the affected candidate(s) informing them of the additional information that will be published.

For elections taking place on or after 2 May 2024, the meaning of relevant area is

For home addresses in England:

  • if the address is within a district for which there is a district council, that district;
  • if the address is within a county in which there are no districts with councils, that county;
  • if the address is within a London borough, that London borough;
  • if the address is within the City of London (including the Inner and Middle Temples), the City of London;
  • if the address is within the Isles of Scilly, the Isles of Scilly.  

For home addresses in Wales:

  • if the address is within a county, that county;
  • if the address is within a county borough, that county borough. 

For home addresses in Scotland:

  • the local government area in which the address is situated.

For home addresses in Northern Ireland:

  • the local government district in which the address is situated.
Last updated: 28 March 2024

Candidate's consent to nomination

Candidates must formally consent to their nomination and deliver their consent by the deadline for delivery of nomination papers. The consent to nomination form is not prescribed, but the required content is set out in law.1  

The form must contain:

  • the candidate’s date of birth
  • a statement that they are aware of the provisions of the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 
  • a statement that to the best of their knowledge they are not disqualified from being a Member of the House of Commons
  • a statement that they are not a candidate at an election for any other UK Parliamentary constituency with the same polling day

The disqualification orders for candidates have been updated by the Elections Act 2022 and will apply to elections taking place on or after 2 May 2024. It is for the candidate to ensure that they are not disqualified from standing. Neither you nor the Commission are able to confirm whether or not a candidate is disqualified.

Candidates are not allowed to sign their consent form earlier than one calendar month before the deadline for submitting their nomination papers. 

The consent must be witnessed by another person, but there are no restrictions on who can be a witness to the consent to nomination.

There is an exception to the requirement for the consent to be delivered in writing and by hand. You may be satisfied that, due to the absence of the candidate from the UK, it is not reasonably practicable for the candidate to provide their consent in writing. In this circumstance, you can treat a candidate’s consent given by email or scanned document sent electronically or by other similar means of communication, as written consent. The consent is deemed as having been given on the date it is sent, and does not need to be attested.2  

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Offence of making a false statement on a nomination paper

You should remind any person delivering the nomination papers that it is a criminal offence to knowingly make a false statement on nomination papers. If the nomination form includes a commonly used name, you should highlight that the offence also applies if a candidate has given a commonly used name that they do not actually commonly use. You may warn candidates that the penalty for a false statement is either an unlimited fine in England and Wales, £10,000 in Scotland and/or up to one year’s imprisonment.1  

You should not give advice on questions of candidates’ eligibility or disqualification but should direct them to our guidance for candidates and agents at UK Parliamentary general elections and UK Parliamentary by-elections in the first instance. You should advise them to seek their own legal advice should they have any further concerns.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Use of party names and party descriptions

Political parties can register up to 12 descriptions1 and the Welsh translations of those descriptions.

You must check that the party name or description as given on the nomination form is registered on Commission’s register of political parties and matches it exactly. The party must also be listed as being allowed to field candidates in that part of the UK that the candidate is standing in. If it does not, you must reject that nomination.2  

Even if a registered party is well known, it is vital to check the register of political parties for the exact details of the party as registered with the Commission.

In Wales, a candidate may use either the English version, Welsh version or both versions of either the party name or a description as long as they are on the register. Translations of party names are listed on the website under other name and translations of descriptions are listed to the right of the description under translation(s). At a UK Parliamentary election, if the party has not registered a translation, a translation of any party name or description cannot be used.

In case of any future challenges and to maintain a clear audit trail you should print a copy of the relevant part of the register of political parties showing the descriptions and party name at the time of your determination.

What descriptions may be used?

A candidate may only use one of the following descriptions:3  

  • the word ‘Independent’ or, in Wales, ‘Independent’ and/or ‘Annibynnol’ 
  • the registered party name of a registered political party 
  • one of the descriptions the party has registered with the Commission

Certificate of authorisation

If a candidate wishes to use a party name or description, this must be authorised by the party’s Nominating Officer (or a person authorised to act on their behalf).4  

The candidate must submit a certificate of authorisation, signed by or on behalf of the party’s Nominating Officer, by the deadline for the delivery of nomination papers.

You can check who the Nominating Officer for a particular party is by referring to our register of political parties. However, as long as the person who has signed the certificate claims that they have been authorised to do so by the registered Nominating Officer, the certificate should be taken at face value.

Some candidates provide a document showing the delegation of powers to authorise the use of a party name or description to someone else (sometimes known as the ‘Local Nominating Officer certificate’ or ‘Deputy Nominating Officer certificate’).

There is no need for this document to be submitted as it is not part of the nomination paper and is therefore not required. Therefore, if it is supplied, it can be a copy.

A Nominating Officer may stand as a candidate. If this happens, the candidate, as Nominating Officer, may authorise their own description. A person authorised by the Nominating Officer to sign a certificate of authorisation may also be a candidate and sign a certificate for their own nomination.

Description for the Speaker of the House of Commons

The current Speaker of the House of Commons may use the description ‘The Speaker seeking re-election’ (and/or the equivalent in Welsh). The use of this description in these circumstances does not need to be supported by a certificate of authorisation or any documentary evidence. Any such candidate cannot request a party emblem, and so no emblem of any kind can be printed on the ballot paper beside their name. While the current Speaker of the House of Commons may use the description ‘The Speaker seeking re-election’, there is no requirement for them to do so, in which case the preceding paragraphs on candidate’s description and the certificate of authorisation would apply to them as to any other candidate.

The use of joint descriptions

Candidates standing on behalf of more than one political party may use a joint description which is registered with the Commission.5 Such candidates must submit a certificate of authorisation issued by each of the parties’ Nominating Officers (or persons authorised to act on their behalf) by the deadline for the delivery of nomination papers.6  

You can find joint descriptions listed on the register of political parties. To view them, go to the registration page for the relevant parties and within the descriptions section, any joint description will be followed by the words (Joint Description with the xx party). 

For example The Square and Circle Party Candidate (Joint Description with the Circle Party) would be how the joint description would be listed on the Square Party page. The words in brackets are for explanatory purposes only and do not form part of the description and therefore should not be included on the statement of persons nominated or ballot papers.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Request for a party emblem

Political parties can register up to three emblems.1  

A candidate of a registered party can choose to have a registered emblem of the party they are representing displayed on the ballot paper. 

The candidate, not the election agent or the Nominating Officer, must make the request in writing to you not later than the deadline for delivery of nominations.2  

To be able to use an emblem a candidate must have used a party name or description other than Independent, or Annibynnol in Wales.3  

In some instances a candidate may also choose to use an emblem of their party without choosing to use an authorised description. They would need to provide the certificate of authorisation as well as the emblem request form but may choose not to include an authorised description on the nomination paper. 

If the party has more than one registered emblem, the candidate should specify which one they want to use.4 If the candidate does not specify one, or the registered party changes an emblem after the nomination papers have been submitted but before the close of nominations, you should try to contact the candidate and ask them to select one. You should also tell them that if they do not select a particular emblem before the close of nominations, you will not be able to print an emblem against their name on the ballot paper. 

The candidate may provide a high-resolution copy of the emblem for use in the printing of ballot papers, or may request that you download the emblem from our website. You must ensure that whatever copy is used is the same as the registered emblem. 

The maximum size of an emblem on the ballot paper is set by the directions for printing. When adding a party emblem to a ballot paper, the shape of the emblem should not be altered. For example, do not stretch emblems into square shapes if they are not registered as square images on our website, as this would have the effect of altering their appearance.

Candidates standing on behalf of more than one party who use a joint description may choose to use a registered emblem of one of the parties that have authorised the use of the description. There is no provision for joint emblems to be registered with the Commission.

A zip file of emblem images is available and can be used by your printer to prepare ballot papers. However, it is the information on our register of political parties that should be used for confirming which emblem to print.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Changes to the registers of parties

Our register of parties contains up-to-date information about political parties, registered descriptions and emblems, and shows which names, descriptions and emblems are currently registered for each party.

Changes up to the publication of the notice of election

Removals or substitution of any registered party descriptions on the Commission’s register of political parties may take effect up to and including the day before the actual date the notice of election is published. 

It is important to note that this is not the last day for publication of the notice of election but the date the notice is actually published.1  

Once the notice of election is published any such changes to any party descriptions do not apply for that election.2  

For example, if you decide to publish your notice of election before the last day that the notice must be published by law, it is possible that a nomination may be submitted which bears a registered party description that no longer appears on the register of parties. 

If the deletion of the description has taken effect after you have published your notice of election but before the last day for publication of notice of election, the deletion does not apply to your election and the ‘old’ description is still valid. In such circumstances you can check with you local Commission team and whether or not the submitted party description applies for your election.3  

Changes up to two days before the final day for delivery of nomination papers

You should also note that parties may change their registered party name and emblems, and add any new description if they previously had registered fewer than 12, at any time until two days before the final day for delivery of nominations for that election.4  

New parties must also be registered two days before the final day for delivery of nominations for that election, in order to use names, descriptions and emblems at that poll. 

The table below sets out the deadlines for making changes to the register of political parties in the run up to a poll. After that point, any changes or deletions to any party descriptions do not apply for that election.5  

What does the party want to do the register of political parties?When can this be done?
Registration of new partiesNo later than two working days before the last day for the delivery of nominations at that election
Add any new descriptions where fewer than 12 are heldNo later than two working days before the last day for the delivery of nominations at that election6
Alter party names and/or emblemsNot later than two working days before the last day for the delivery of nominations at that election7
Remove or substitute any register descriptionUp to and including the day before the actual date for the publication of the notice of election8

Party description - not yet registered

Where a candidate attempts to submit a nomination paper bearing a description that has yet to be registered, you should advise the candidate not to formally submit the paper, but to take it back and submit it once the description has been successfully registered. 

If a candidate formally submits their nomination form with a description that is not yet registered, you must determine the nomination invalid on the basis that, when the determination is made, the description provided does not match any registered with the Commission.9   

You may wish to contact your local Commission team for confirmation that a description is not yet registered before making your determination. 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Deposit to stand for election

In order to be validly nominated, a candidate or someone acting on the candidate’s behalf must also deposit the sum of £500 with you by the close of nominations.1  

You must accept deposits made using:

  • legal tender (cash in British pounds only) 
  • a UK banker’s draft 

You may refuse to accept a banker’s draft if you do not know whether the drawer carries on business as a banker in the United Kingdom.

You can also choose to accept funds by means of:

  • a building society cheque
  • a debit or credit card
  • electronic transfer of funds 

You should accept building society cheques if they carry out business in the United Kingdom. You should also accept banker’s payments, which are orders issued by a bank guaranteeing payment to the recipient. If you decide to accept any of these methods you should list them on the notice of election and make any requirements you have clear in the nomination pack.  

If the deposit is given to you by someone acting on behalf of the candidate, the person delivering the deposit must give you their name and address, unless they have already provided this information as part of their notification of appointment as an election agent.

You must return the deposit to the person who made it or, if they have died, their personal representative, in the following circumstances: 

  • the candidate withdraws before the deadline for withdrawals
  • you reject a candidate’s nomination and they are not shown as validly nominated on the statement of persons nominated
  • the candidate dies and proof of death has been given to you before you conclude the first count2  

If there is a fee attached to the form of payment, you can pass this on to the candidate. If so, you should make this clear on the notice of election and the nomination pack. 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Delivery of nomination papers

This guidance explains the requirements for the delivery of nomination papers. It sets out what you should do to prepare for and undertake informal checking of papers before they are formally delivered and who can deliver nomination papers to you for submission.  

It also explains what papers must be submitted and how they should be completed in order for you to be able to determine them, along with the method of submission and who is entitled to deliver and attend the delivery of nomination papers. 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Carrying out informal checks

The purpose of an informal check is to check that a nomination paper appears to be complete in respect of all the legal requirements.

When conducting an informal check you should make it clear that the nomination papers are being looked at informally only. 

This process allows you to highlight any errors which would invalidate the paper or which may give reason for a challenge following the election, allowing the opportunity for these to be corrected before being formally submitted. 

For elections taking place on or after 2 May 2024, as part of your informal checks you may wish to highlight to candidates the updated rules regarding commonly used names and home addresses.  

Once informal checks are complete, the papers will either be handed back, or if there are no amendments to be made, they may be formally submitted.  

The person delivering the nomination paper may choose not to wait for an informal check or may choose not to make any changes following advice given at the informal checking stage. If that is the case the paper should be considered as formally submitted and you should accept it at face value. 

All candidates and agents should be given an equal opportunity to access an informal check.

You should consider how you are going to manage this process, for example by putting in place an appointment system.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Time for delivery of nomination papers

The deadline for the delivery of nominations for a UK Parliamentary general election is 4pm on the nineteenth working day before the poll. 

This deadline cannot be moved or extended for any reason. 

Nomination papers can be delivered to you between the hours of 10am and 4pm from the day after publication of notice of election.1  

UK Parliamentary by-elections

For a UK Parliamentary by-election, the deadline for the delivery of nominations is fixed by you, within the constraints of the statutory timetable. The date fixed should not be earlier than the third working day after the date of publication of the notice of election and not later than the seventh working day after the writ is received. 

The date you choose should maximise the length of time that candidates have to submit their nomination papers.

Once fixed, this deadline cannot be moved or extended for any reason. 

Time for delivery of nomination papers

A nomination paper is considered delivered when it is delivered by hand at the place specified in the notice of election.

For party candidates wishing to use a description and/or an emblem, you must also receive a certificate of authorisation and an emblem request form as applicable during the time specified for the delivery of nomination papers. 

No appointment is required for the delivery of nomination papers but you could offer and encourage appointments as a way to manage the potential volume of nominations that you will receive during the very short period for UK Parliamentary nominations. 

The candidate is responsible for making sure that their nomination papers are delivered in the correct way and by the required deadline. If a completed set of nomination papers and the deposit have not been delivered by that time, the nomination is treated as not having been made which means that you cannot rule the nomination valid or invalid.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Place of delivery of nomination papers

Nomination papers must be delivered to a specific location of your choice at the relevant council offices. 

You must include the location on the notice of election. 

In England and Wales, the location you choose must be:1  

  • in the constituency, or
  • in the registration area which includes the constituency, or
  • in the case of a county constituency – in a district or a Welsh county or county borough adjoining the constituency or registration area

The registration area is defined as the area of two or more constituencies which have the same registration officer.2  

In Scotland, the location must be:3   

  • in the constituency, or
  • in the local government area (or, if more than one, any of the local government areas) in which the constituency is situated, or
  • in any local government area adjoining the local government area (or local government areas) in which the constituency is situated

The location included on the notice of election for the delivery of nomination papers should be exact and include any room name or number. This ensures there can be no doubt about where a nomination paper should be delivered. 

You should:

  • ensure that only you or your staff take delivery of nomination papers at the specified location
  • clearly signpost the location from the building entrance 
  • ensure the route is fully accessible or provide an appropriately signposted alternative
  • give details to other local authority staff, such as reception staff, of what to do if a person tries to deliver a nomination paper to them and make it clear that they:
    • should not handle nomination papers
    • should not offer to deliver them
    • should instead direct the person delivering the forms to you

You or an appointed deputy must be present throughout the period for nominations to deal with nominations.4  

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Who can deliver nomination papers?

The nomination and home address form may only be delivered by:1  

  • the candidate 
  • the proposer or seconder as shown on the nomination form 
  • the candidate’s election agent, provided you have received notification of their appointment 

The notice of appointment of the election agent may be delivered at the same time as the nomination and home address form.

There are no restrictions on who can deliver the consent to nomination, certificate of authorisation and emblem request forms.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Attendance at delivery of nomination papers

Only certain people are entitled to attend the delivery of nomination papers and to inspect and make any objections to the validity of a nomination form or home address form. You can find more information on dealing with objections in our guidance: Objections to nominations.

After a candidate has delivered their nomination papers and deposit and they stand validly nominated, they are entitled to attend the delivery of other candidates’ nomination papers and make objections. In addition to the candidate, the following persons will also be able to attend and make objections:1  

  • their election agent
  • their proposer or seconder, as stated on the nomination form

If a candidate is their own election agent, they can appoint one other person to attend the delivery of nomination papers and make objections. If a candidate has submitted more than one nomination form, only the proposer and seconder from the nomination form they have selected will be entitled to attend. If none has been selected, it will be the proposer and seconder of the first submitted nomination form who will have that entitlement.

Nomination papers cannot be inspected by anybody else at any time. 

Electoral Commission representatives and one other person chosen by a validly nominated candidate can also be present at the delivery of nomination papers, but they are not allowed to inspect or make any objections to nomination papers.

You should make it clear to persons inspecting a home address form which asks for the candidate’s home address not to be published that the information on the form should only be used by the person inspecting to:

  • object to the nomination 
  • lodge an election petition
  • make a complaint to the police that a person has made a false statement 

You should make it clear to the person inspecting that any other use of the information on the form may be in breach of data protection legislation and so could make a person using the information for any other purpose liable to criminal prosecution.

You must keep the nomination papers securely stored and allow inspection of the nomination and home address forms by the persons permitted to inspect these until the deadline for making objections to the nomination papers.2  

Once the deadline for making objections has passed, you should store the nomination papers securely for one year after the election due to the time limit for prosecution in case of an election petition. The home address form must be destroyed after 21 days.3  

Last updated: 19 December 2023

How nomination papers must be submitted

The original version of each completed document must be submitted.1  

The nomination form, home address form and consent to nomination must be delivered by hand.2 This includes delivery by courier.  

The only exception to this is where a candidate is overseas, in which case their consent to nomination may be sent electronically.3  

Certificates of authorisation and emblem request forms may be delivered by hand or by post, but cannot be delivered by email or other electronic means. This is because a document that is printed out is not an original document – it would be a copy document. 

For a document to become a certificate (as required for a Certificate of Authorisation), it requires a method of authentication. In most cases, the authentication takes the form of a signature to attest the truth of the facts stated. A seal could also be used. 

Whatever method of authentication is used, the document delivered must be the original document.  A copy document is not acceptable.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Nomination papers received by post

Nomination forms, home address forms and consent to nomination forms cannot be delivered by post. 

Only the certificate of authorisation and emblem request can be received by post.

Any certificates of authorisation and emblem requests received by post should be stored securely until required and collated with corresponding nomination papers delivered by hand as appropriate.

You should have a process in place to monitor your incoming mail to ensure it does not contain nomination papers that must be delivered by hand.

If you receive a nomination paper, home address form or consent to nomination form by post, you should try to contact the candidate and explain:

  • that their nomination form, home address form and consent to nomination cannot be accepted by post
  • that they (or someone on their behalf) needs to hand deliver these in accordance with the rules
  • that it is their responsibility to ensure that this is done by the deadline
  • that they do not need to produce new nomination papers or obtain new subscribers

You should keep any nomination papers you receive by post so they can be collected and then delivered to you by hand. You and your staff are not permitted to deliver the forms for the candidate.

The candidate is deemed not to have been nominated if:

  • you receive a nomination form, home address form or consent to nomination by post1   
  • you have not received all of the required nomination forms by the deadline for delivery of nomination papers 

You cannot determine forms which have not been delivered or take any decision as to whether these papers are valid.2  

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Delivery of multiple nomination forms

There is no limit to the number of nomination forms that may be delivered for the same candidate.

If a candidate is validly nominated by more than one form:

  • the candidate should choose one of the valid nomination forms – to be known as the 'selected' nomination form 
  • details on this selected nomination form should be added to the statement of persons nominated and the ballot paper 

If the candidate does not select a form, you must choose which one of the forms will be used.1  

A candidate may request that the details of their proposers, seconders and other subscribers for up to two more valid nomination forms be added to the statement of persons nominated. 

As such, the statement should have space to enable the names of up to 30 subscribers to be added if requested.

If more than one nomination form is delivered and one of the nomination papers is invalid:

  • the invalid form is excluded from those that can be chosen by the candidate or yourself as the selected form 
  • as long as at least one nomination form is valid, the candidate can be validly nominated

Signatures from subscribers on any delivered nomination form will count towards the maximum number they may subscribe.2 For more information see our guidance on the subscriber requirements

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Formal delivery

A nomination is formally delivered at the point where:

  • a paper is left with you and the offer of an informal check was not accepted
  • the informal check has been conducted, any issues addressed and the person delivering the nomination paper has indicated they are satisfied that it is ready to be determined

All candidates should be offered an informal check. Further information is available in our guidance on carrying out informal checks.

Once a nomination form has been formally delivered, no changes can be subsequently made to it (subject to your power to correct minor errors). You can find more information on your power to correct minor errors in the section Mistakes on nomination papers.

You should endorse each form with the date and time of formal delivery, so that you have a record of when each paper was formally submitted. 

If a candidate later decides that they want to make a change to their nomination paper after it has been formally submitted, for example to the description, this can only be done by: 

  • withdrawing their candidature 
  • submitting new nomination papers within the statutory timeframe  

Similarly, there is no provision to allow a subscriber to withdraw their signature from a nomination paper once it has been delivered.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Processing nominations

Determining nomination and home address forms after formal delivery

A candidate who delivers completed nomination papers by the required deadline will be deemed nominated unless:

  • you decide that the nomination form is invalid
  • a candidate dies or withdraws before the deadline1  

You must determine the validity of a nomination form and home address form as soon as possible after formal delivery. This enables candidates whose nominations have been deemed invalid to submit new papers before the close of nominations. 

For elections taking place on or after 2 May 2024, the Elections Act 2022 has updated the grounds on which you can determine a nomination invalid. For more information see our guidance on Determining a nomination to be invalid.
 

We have also produced a checklist to assist you with processing nomination forms.


Accepting nominations at face value

You must not:

  • undertake any investigation or research into any candidate. Your duty does not go beyond seeing that a nomination form is correct on face value2  

You should not:

  • investigate whether a name given on a nomination form is genuine

You should:

  • disregard any personal knowledge you may already have of the candidate 
  • determine nominations on the basis of the form itself
     
Last updated: 19 December 2023

Determining a nomination to be invalid

Grounds for determining a nomination form invalid

By law, the only grounds you have for determining that a nomination form is invalid are:1

  • that the particulars of the candidate or the persons subscribing the nomination form are not as required by law
  • that the paper is not subscribed as required
  • that the person is disqualified under the Representation of the People Act 1981 on the grounds that they are imprisoned and serving a sentence of a year or more
  • that the person is subject to a disqualification order under section 30 of the Elections Act 2022

Particulars of the candidate

The particulars of the candidate include the description given on the nomination paper, therefore, the nomination must be deemed invalid if:

  • the party does not appear on the Commission’s register of political parties as a party that can contest elections in your part of the country 
  • the party name or description used on the nomination form does not exactly match the party name or description as registered with the Commission 
  • the use of the party name or description has not been authorised by a certificate of authorisation signed by or on behalf of the party’s Nominating Officer  
  • the certificate of authorisation explicitly authorises a specific name or description and this does not match the party name/description on the nomination form2  

There is case law that provides that candidates who give descriptions that are obscene, racist or an incitement to crime should be considered to have provided particulars that are “not as required by law”. This is because they contravene the law and/or will inevitably involve the Returning Officer in a breach of the law.

If the nomination form does not comply with the description rules you must give a determination decision to that effect as soon as practicable after the delivery of the nomination form and in any event within 24 hours after the deadline for the delivery of nominations.3
 
We have produced a nominations checklist for (A)ROs which sets out what you will need to consider and specific things to look out for when determining a nomination.

Subscribers

Our section ‘Nomination form -  subscribers requirements’ contains detailed information on subscribers.

If a nomination is not subscribed as required it must be deemed invalid. 

Failure to provide a deposit

If you have not received the required £500 deposit or any of the required nomination papers by the deadline for the submission of nomination papers, the candidate has not been validly nominated. There is then no need to make a formal determination, and their name should not appear on the statement of persons nominated.4

Return of deposit due to nomination not being valid 

You must return the deposit of any candidate whose nomination you have rejected. The deposit must be returned to the person who made it and as soon as practicable after the statement of persons nominated has been published.5  For guidance on returning deposits to validly nominated candidates after an election see Post election activity.

Grounds for determining a home address form invalid

You must determine that the home address form does not comply with the legal requirements if:6

  • it does not state the candidate’s full name
  • it does not state the candidate’s home address in full

Sham nominations

You may come across a situation where the candidate's nomination is clearly a sham - for example, if a candidate has given an obviously fictitious name or address such as 'Mickey Mouse of Disney Land'. In such a case, the nomination form must be held to be invalid on the grounds that the candidate’s particulars are not as required by law.7

When considering the name, the first consideration should be whether the “name” that has been provided on the nomination form appears to be “obviously fictitious” on the face of the paper. 

If the “name” does not appear to be a genuine name and instead appears to be a statement or slogan, for example, you may consider that it is “obviously fictitious”. 

Any conclusion would be supported by considering the wider context. For example, does the name appear to be a political slogan made in response to topical political events, rather than the genuine name of a real person? 

A court would likely in those circumstances conclude that such names are “obviously fictitious” and that the nomination form should be rejected.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

After formally determining a nomination paper

Once you have decided that a nomination is valid, it cannot be challenged during the election, although it may be challenged after the election through an election petition.1
 
If you have made a formal determination but then, as a result of an objection, later decide that the nomination should in fact have been determined as invalid, you can make a further determination to this effect.

If you determine a nomination to be invalid, you must:

  • state this on the nomination form
  • write the reasons for rejection on the form
  • sign the form
  • contact the candidate and agent as soon as possible so that they may have the opportunity, wherever possible, to submit another nomination form before the close of nominations2  
     
Last updated: 19 December 2023

Withdrawal of a candidate before the deadline

A nominated candidate can withdraw their candidature if they do so before the deadline. A withdrawal notice is not prescribed in legislation but we do provide a template withdrawal notice for candidates to use. 

A notice of withdrawal must be:1

  • signed by the candidates
  • attested by one witness
  • delivered by hand to the place for the delivery of nomination papers
  • delivered by 4pm on the nineteenth working day before the poll

There are no restrictions on who can deliver a notice of withdrawal.

If the candidate is not in the UK, a notice of withdrawal will be effective if it is:2

  • signed by the proposer
  • accompanied by a written declaration that the candidate is abroad (also signed by the proposer)
  • delivered to you by 4pm on the nineteenth working day before the poll

If the candidate was nominated by more than one nomination form, each proposer must sign the notice and declaration.3

If any of the proposers are outside the UK they do not need to sign the notice, but the notice must, by law, include a statement that they are also outside the UK.4

Return of deposit due to withdrawal

You must return the deposit of any candidate who has withdrawn their candidature. The deposit must be returned to the person who made it and as soon as practicable after the statement of persons nominated has been published.5 For guidance on returning deposits to validly nominated candidates after an election see our section on Post election activity.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Mistakes on nomination papers

Subject to your power to correct minor errors no changes can be made to a nomination paper once it has been formally delivered.

Correction of minor errors

The information in this section explains how to deal with minor errors and you must have regard to this.1   

You can, by law, correct minor errors made on nomination and home address forms at any time before you publish the statement of persons nominated.2
 
You should attempt to contact the candidate or agent before making any minor error amendment. 

The table below sets out some of the minor errors which can be corrected and guidance about exercising your power to correct minor errors. You should contact us for advice when considering correcting minor errors.
 

Type of error

Guidance

Errors in elector numbers Where an elector number has been entered incorrectly, you may amend it if you are satisfied that an error has been made. However, where the elector number has been omitted altogether this does not amount to an error and the nomination form should be deemed invalid on the basis that the number has not been supplied3 .
Obvious spelling errors in candidate's details Care should be taken in exercising this power - what is an obvious spelling error to one person may not be to another.
Errors in a home address Where a home address is not absolutely correct there may not be a need to make a correction. By law, errors in a home address do not affect the validity of a nomination form, as long as the address can be commonly understood.

       
    
 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Objections to nominations

Certain people may object to the validity of a nomination form or home address form. More information on who can object to nominations can be found in the attendance at nominations section. 

Objections can be made on the last day for delivery of nomination papers during the hours for delivery and for one hour after (i.e. up until 5pm).1  

The only exception is where the objection is on the grounds that a candidate is disqualified because they are serving a prison sentence of a year or more. In this case, objections can be made between 10am and 4pm on the next working day after the deadline for delivery of nomination papers. 

Timetable for objections 

The time within which an ordinary objection can be made depends on when the nomination papers are delivered.2  

When was the nominations form delivered? When can the nomination form be objected to?
Nominations delivered up to 4pm on the day before the deadline for delivery of nomination papers (E-20) Objection must be made between 10 am and 12 noon on the last day for submitting nomination papers (E-19)
Nominations delivered after 4pm on the day before the deadline for delivery of nomination papers (E-20) Objection must be made between 10am and 5pm on the last day for submitting nomination papers (E-19) and also must be made at or immediately after the time of the delivery of the nomination

 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Objections on the grounds that a candidate is imprisoned for a year or more

If it appears to you that a candidate might be disqualified from standing for election by the Representation of the People Act 1981 (i.e. because they are imprisoned and serving a sentence of a year or more), you must publish a draft statement of persons nominated that shows persons who have been and stand nominated as soon as practicable after the close of nominations. 

The draft statement must:

  • be headed ‘draft statement of persons nominated’
  • contain a notice stating that any person who wishes to object to the nomination of a candidate on the ground that they are disqualified from standing for election by the Representation of the People Act 1981 may do so between 10am and 4pm at the place specified in the notice 
  • specify the date on which such objections can be made
Last updated: 19 December 2023

Decisions on objections

You should consider any objection that you receive during the allowed time for objections to be made. 

You are only entitled to hold a nomination invalid on the following grounds:1  

  • that the particulars of the candidate or subscribers are not as required by law
  • that the form is not subscribed as required
  • that the candidate is disqualified under the Representation of the People Act 1981 on the grounds that they are imprisoned and serving a sentence of a year or more
  • that the person is subject to a disqualification order under section 30 of the Elections Act 2022   

You should not undertake any investigation or hear any representations in support of or challenging any fact or statement given on the nomination or home address form. 

You must decide any objection as soon as practicable after it is made and in any event within 24 hours after the close of nominations.2  

You should limit the objection process to the nomination and home address forms. 

Where you decide that, as a result of an objection, a nomination you have already determined should have been ruled invalid, you must:

  • show on the statement of persons nominated any candidate who is no longer validly nominated 
  • the reason why they no longer stand nominated 

You should inform the candidate as appropriate.3    

For more information see section Determining a nomination to be invalid.
 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

After the close of nominations

After the close of nominations you must publish a statement of persons nominated and a notice of poll.1  

For details on what these notices should contain and steps you should take when proofing, see our guidance on production of notices.

Uncontested elections

The election is uncontested if either: 

  • only one valid nomination is received 
  • all valid nominations are properly withdrawn by the deadline except one 

If the election is uncontested, you must publish the statement of persons nominated as soon as practicable declaring the one validly nominated candidate elected.2  

You should then return the writ with the details of the successful candidate. No poll is necessary.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Producing election notices

Translation and formats of notices 

You must ensure that notices are translated or provided in another format if appropriate.1 You may produce them: 

  • in Braille 
  • in languages other than English (or, in Wales, English and Welsh)
  • using graphical representations
  • in audio format2  
  • using any other means of making information accessible 

The nomination form and the ballot papers cannot be produced in any other language or format.3  

The enlarged hand-held and display copies of the ballot paper(s) used in the polling station must have the instructions for voters printed at the top of the paper(s). These instructions may be translated into languages other than English or, in Wales, English and Welsh.4

Ensuring information on notices is accessible

You should ensure that any information about the polls, including the notices of election and notices of poll are:

  • easily accessible to all voters
  • available in an accessible format
  • available in time for voters to cast their vote

Information can be made available through the local authority website. 

The information provided on your website should be accessible to voters. You could speak to your authority’s equalities officer or web team for advice on how to do this.  

If you are providing information in PDF format, you should be aware that if certain steps are not followed when creating PDFs, they may not be compatible with screen readers and other assistive technologies. 

The UK Government has produced a guide to producing accessible PDFs you can refer to. 

Last updated: 21 March 2024

Publishing election notices

When you are required to publish notices, you should publish and display them in a place in the electoral area where they will be seen. This should include local authority offices, noticeboards, libraries and other public buildings. You may also give notices in any other manner you think fit.1  

You should apply robust proof checking processes to help: 

  • detect any errors 
  • avoid any potential data breaches before they occur

You can find more information on proof checking processes in our quality assurance guidance and you can find a quality assurance checklist here. 

Data protection considerations for election notices

As the data controller you will need to consider whether it is appropriate or necessary for notices to remain published, on your website or elsewhere, beyond the expiry of the petition period for the election. 

For example, where a notice serves a specific purpose – such as advising who will be a candidate at the election - once the election is over, and the opportunity to question that election has passed, the notice serves no further purpose. 

Once the petition deadline for the election has passed you should either remove the notices from the website or remove the personal data contained in the notices. 

Data protection legislation permits personal data to be stored for longer periods, subject to the implementation of appropriate safeguards if the data will be processed:

•    solely for archiving purposes in the public interest, or
•    for scientific, historical, or statistical purposes 

For example, notices of election results on your website should be retained as they are for public interest and have historical and statistical purposes.

For more information see our guidance on data protection considerations.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Publishing the statement of persons nominated

If there are no objections to nomination papers, you must publish a statement of persons nominated for the constituency at 5pm on the last day for delivery of nomination papers. 

If there are objections, the statement must be published by 4pm on the working day after the last day for nominations.1  

Contents of the statement of persons nominated

The statement of persons nominated must include the following information for all candidates who are validly nominated:

  • name
  • home address, or, if they have requested not to make their home address public:
    •  (for elections taking place before 2 May 2024) the UK Parliamentary constituency or country as appropriate
    • (for elections taking place on or after 2 May 2024) if their home address is in the UK, the UK Parliamentary constituency, the relevant area in which their home address is situated or country as appropriate
  • description (if any)
  • subscribers’ names (up to 30, taken from the ‘selected nomination form’ and up to two others if multiple nomination forms have been delivered)

It must also include those who no longer stand nominated and the reason why (i.e. those who have withdrawn or whose nomination you have rejected).2   

Your privacy notice should make clear that, under electoral legislation, you are required to publish the candidates’ name and address information in the statement of persons nominated. You can find out more about the data protection considerations of a privacy notice in our data protection guidance.

The statement of persons nominated must also include the notice of poll if the election is contested. More information about the notice of poll can be found in our guidance on Publishing the notice of poll

Ordering of names on the statement of persons nominated

The names of the candidates must be listed in alphabetical order of their surname.3 This is also how they will appear on the ballot paper.4  

If there are two or more candidates with the same surname, the alphabetical order of the other names will decide which candidate is listed first.5  

If a person has requested the use of a commonly used name on their nomination paper, the commonly used name must be shown on the statement instead of the actual name.6  

Where a candidate has requested the use of a commonly used surname, the candidate’s alphabetical position on the statement of persons nominated and on the ballot paper must be made by reference to their commonly used surname.

If, however, you have rejected the use of any commonly used name as you think it is likely to mislead or confuse electors, or is obscene or offensive, the actual name must, by law, be published on the statement of persons nominated instead of the commonly used name.

Considerations where a candidate has asked for their home address not to be published

If more than one validly nominated candidate has:

  • asked for their home address not to be published, and
  • has provided the same relevant area of the UK (or the same country) on their home address form as another candidate(s)

You must consider whether two or more of them have the same name or a name so similar that it is likely to cause confusion.7   

If you consider that this is the case, you may add such details from their home address or nomination form as you consider appropriate to reduce the likelihood of confusion.8      

You must consult the candidate(s) affected, if it is practicable to do so, before you make a decision on which details should be included on the statement of persons nominated. 

You must give notice in writing to the affected candidate(s) informing them of the additional information that will be published.9  

You should have robust proof-checking processes in place to ensure that there are no errors on the statement of persons nominated. You can find information about proof checking in our quality assurance guidance, and in the following quality assurance checklist.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Publishing the notice of poll

You must publish a notice of poll for the constituency if there are two or more candidates and there is to be a contest, stating the day and hours fixed for the poll.1  

You must include the notice of poll on the statement of persons nominated. 

You should give a copy of the statement of persons nominated with the notice of poll to all candidates and election agents as soon as practicable after its publication.

We have published a template notice of poll here.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Publishing the notice of situation of polling stations

You must publish the notice of situation of polling stations. It must give public notice of:1  

  • the situation of each polling station in the area
  • the description of voters entitled to vote there

If no objections to nominations have been received, you must publish the notice no later than 5pm on the last day for the delivery of nomination papers.

If objections have been lodged, you must publish the notice on the next working day after the last day for delivery of nomination papers.2  

You may choose to combine the notice of the situation of polling stations with the statement of persons nominated and notice of poll. 

Cross-boundary constituencies

You should liaise with the local government ROs within your area to ensure you have all of the relevant information regarding elections and by-elections in other local authorities and the location of polling stations to enable you to produce the notice of situation of polling stations.

Publishing the notice of situation of polling stations

You should have robust proof-checking processes in place to ensure that there are no errors on the notice of situation of polling stations.

You can find more information about proof checking in our quality assurance guidance, and you can find a quality assurance checklist here.

You must give a copy of the relevant notice of situation of polling stations and descriptions of voters entitled to vote there to all election agents as soon as practicable after giving the notice.3

You should also give a copy of the relevant notice to all candidates. 

You should also be prepared to make these notices available to any accredited observers on request.

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Death of a candidate

The impact that the death of a candidate will have on the election depends on whether the deceased candidate was standing as an independent or was standing on behalf of a registered political party.

For the purposes of the management of the election, it is the time at which you receive proof of the candidate’s death that is the relevant factor, not the actual time of death.

Proof of death is not defined. You should be satisfied with any information that you have received to indicate that the death has occurred.

Death of an independent candidate

In the event that an independent candidate dies during the election period the election continues as normal. 

The impact of the death of an independent candidate on the result of an election is set out in the following table.

Scenario Action

Scenario one

If the deceased candidate receives the most votes, they are not elected and the election is re-run. 

All of the existing candidates remain nominated for the new election although candidates may withdraw.1 New nomination forms are not required. No new nominations are allowed.  

The retention or return of the deposit for candidates is determined by the result of the re-run election.

Scenario two If the deceased candidate did not receive the most votes, the winning candidate is declared elected and the election is not affected. 
Scenario three If the deceased candidate came joint first with the same number of votes as any other candidate, the other candidate is declared elected.
Scenario four

If only two persons are standing nominated and an independent candidate dies, the election is treated as an uncontested election and the other candidate is declared elected.

In all circumstances, you must return the deposit of the deceased candidate to the person who made it. If the deceased candidate made the deposit, you must return the deposit to their personal representative.

Death of a party candidate

Scenario Action
Scenario one If a candidate standing on behalf of a political party (or as a joint candidate standing on behalf of two or more parties) dies before polls open, the poll will be countermanded, meaning the poll will be cancelled.
Scenario two If a candidate standing on behalf of a political party (or as a joint candidate standing on behalf of two or more parties) dies after the polls have opened but before the declaration of result, the election is stopped immediately. 
Scenario three

If a candidate standing on behalf of a political party (or as a joint candidate standing on behalf of two or more parties) dies after the poll has closed and count is being undertaken, the count process stops. 

In all of the scenarios concerning death of a party candidate, there will be a new election.2  

All of the existing candidates remain nominated for the new election although they may withdraw.3 New nomination forms are not required.  

No new nominations are allowed. The only exception is that a new candidate can be nominated to stand on behalf of the same party (or parties) as the candidate who died. In this circumstance, the nomination paper for the new candidate must be submitted by the close of nominations based on the new timetable.

The retention or return of the deposit is determined by the result of the re-run election.

Death of the Speaker of the House of Commons

If a candidate who was the Speaker of the House of Commons seeking re-election has died after the polls have opened but before the declaration of the result, the election is stopped immediately. 

If a candidate who was the Speaker of the House of Commons seeking re-election has died and the polls have not opened, the poll is countermanded. 

If the count is being undertaken, that process stops. 

In the circumstance of any of the scenarios above, there will be a new election.4  

In the case of the death of the Speaker new nominations are allowed for the new election. These must be submitted in the usual way and by the deadline for nominations based on the new timetable.

Timetable for the new election due to death of a candidate

The timetable for the new election will be prepared as if the writ was received seven working days after you received proof of the death. 

The new polling day must be between 21 and 27 working days after the day on which the writ is taken to have been received.5  

Last updated: 19 December 2023
Last updated: 28 March 2024

Agents

This section of the guidance covers the appointment of election agents, the requirement to give public notice of the appointment of election agents and how an appointment can be revoked.  

You will also find guidance on the appointment of agents to attend postal vote openings, polling stations and the verification and count, and information on the secrecy and conduct requirements for attendance at these key electoral events. 

Last updated: 19 December 2023

Appointment of election agent

An election agent is the person responsible for the proper management of the candidate’s election campaign and, in particular, for its financial management. Every candidate must have an election agent. 

The notice of the appointment of an election agent must be delivered to you by the latest time for the delivery of notices of withdrawals by 4pm on the last day for the delivery of nomination papers. 

We have produced an election agent notification form as part of the following set of nomination papers.1

The referenced media source is missing and needs to be re-embedded.


You should communicate information on the election processes, the code of conduct and standard points of behaviour to the election agent at the earliest opportunity. In particular any information you provide should provide links to and highlight the new postal vote handling and the new undue influence and intimidation rules.

Can a candidate be their own agent? 

A candidate may appoint themselves as their own election agent. 

If no agent is appointed by the deadline for withdrawals, the candidate automatically becomes their own election agent.2   

A candidate also becomes their own agent if:

  • they revoke their agent’s appointment, or
  • their agent dies, and a replacement is not appointed on the day of the death or on the following day3  

Election agent’s office address

The election agent must have an office address to which all claims, notices, legal notices and documents may be sent. This must be a physical address – PO boxes or similar mailboxes cannot be used.4  

The location of the office must be in one of the following locations:

  • within the parliamentary constituency where the candidate is standing
  • within a constituency which adjoins the constituency where the candidate is standing
  • within Wales, within a Welsh county or county borough which is part of, or adjoins, the constituency where the candidate is standing
  • within London, within a London borough which is part of, or adjoins, the constituency where the candidate is standing5  

The election agent’s office address is often the same as their home address. Alternatively, it might be the local political party office or an office especially set up for the election.

If the candidate gives you written notification of their appointment as their own election agent, they must give an office address within the qualifying area as defined in the bullet points above.

Where a candidate acts as their own election agent as a result of not having appointed anybody else, the office address is deemed to be the address given on the statement of persons nominated, i.e. the one provided on the home address form. If that address is outside the relevant qualifying area as defined in the bullet points above, the office address is deemed to be the address of the person named in the statement of persons nominated as proposer.6