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

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