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

Allocation of ballot papers

You must provide each polling station with the number of ballot papers that you think may be necessary.1  

As part of your consideration, you should estimate expected turnout levels. You should assume that the turnout will not be less than the turnout at the last equivalent poll, and you should take into account the potential for late engagement and interest in the election, and any local or national issues which may affect turnout.  

If you decide for any reason that you are not allocating ballot papers for 100% of electors entitled to vote in person at a polling station, you should give careful consideration to the number that will be required in each case and have plans in place to ensure that additional ballot papers can be provided in a timely manner to any polling station that may require them.  

You should also ensure that Presiding Officers understand how to complete the ballot paper accounts to take account of any additional allocation.

When allocating ballot papers to polling stations, you must ensure that the numbers on the ballot papers allocated to each polling station run consecutively in order to avoid any problems with completing the corresponding number list or ballot paper account. Guidance on the printing of ballot papers is provided in Production of ballot papers and checking ballot papers before allocation.    

You must also supply tendered ballot papers to Presiding Officers. To avoid tendered ballot papers being issued in error, it is good practice to supply them in a sealed envelope with:

  • instructions stating that the envelope should only be opened and the ballot papers within it issued in limited, prescribed circumstances after consultation with the elections office
  • a brief description of those circumstances2  
  • instructions to consult the polling station handbook for further information


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