Guidance for Candidates and Agents at local government elections in England

What if the vote on a ballot paper is not clear?

A ballot paper will not be counted if it:

  • is unmarked
  • does not contain the official mark
  • contains votes for more candidates than the number of vacancies
  • contains any mark or writing that can identify the voter
  • does not indicate the voter’s intention with certainty

The Returning Officer (RO) must draw up a statement showing the number of ballot papers rejected for these reasons.

The RO must mark the work “rejected” on any ballot paper that is rejected. They must add the words “rejection objected to” if a counting agent objects to the RO’s decision.

If the voter’s intention is clear on a ballot paper and the voter cannot be identified by any mark or writing, it will not be void if a vote is marked:

  • elsewhere than in the proper place
  • by other means than a cross (e.g., a tick)
  • by more than one mark

For more details on the adjudication of doubtful ballot papers, see our guidance below.

Doubtful ballot papers

To assist ROs, we have produced guidance on how to adjudicate votes on ballot papers that may appear doubtful. This guidance is contained in our booklet “Dealing with doubtful ballot papers”. We have product doubtful ballot paper placemats for one-member, two-member and three-member wards that ROs may refer to at the count.


The examples given in these documents are based on the elections rules.

Please note that while these documents provide guidance for ROs, each individual RO has the ultimate responsibility for making a decision on individual ballot papers. Their decision to reject a particular ballot paper during the count or recount is final and can be reviewed only at an election petition after the declaration of result. For more details, see our guidance on election petitions

Last updated: 6 December 2023