Guidance for Returning Officers administering Local Government Elections in England

Changes to absent voting arrangements ahead of an election

The deadline for making changes to existing absent vote arrangements, or cancelling an existing postal vote, is 5pm, 11 working days before the poll.

A person who is sent their postal vote early in the election timetable may receive it before this date, but subsequently decide they no longer wish to vote by post. They are still able to make changes to their absent voting arrangements to take effect at the election as long as their request is received by the deadline and they have not yet returned their postal ballot paper. You will need to have a system in place that will allow you to promptly identify if a postal ballot paper has already been returned.

An elector who has received their postal ballot pack and who has already returned their completed postal ballot paper will not be allowed to cancel or make any changes to their absent voting arrangements for that election.

Any elector who has already returned their postal ballot paper can still make a request to make changes to their absent vote arrangements but these changes will not take place until any future poll, unless the ballot paper has been returned as spoilt or lost before the deadline for changes has passed. This is also the case for an elector voting by proxy, where their proxy has a postal vote and has already voted on behalf of the elector by returning their completed postal vote.

The ERO will administer the changes to any absent vote arrangements, and they must notify you whenever they have granted:1

  • a postal vote cancellation
  • a change from postal to proxy
  • a change from proxy to postal
  • an application for a postal ballot paper to be sent to a different address
  • a cancellation of a proxy appointment

in time to take effect at the election. 

You should let the ERO know when postal ballot papers are dispatched as, in practice, it will only be from that point forward and before the final deadline for cancellations and changes that the ERO would need to check whether a postal ballot paper has been returned and so whether it is permissible to allow an application for changes or a cancellation to take effect in time for the election.

You will need to retrieve any ballot papers that have been received before the absent vote deadline and subsequently cancelled by the elector. You can find more information in our guidance on issuing postal votes.

Last updated: 9 November 2023