Modernising voting: flexible voting feasibility studies


Our research shows people in the UK are generally happy with the current ways of voting in person at elections. But it is important to look at how to keep improving elections, to meet the changing needs of voters and to make voting quicker, more convenient and more accessible.

Many other democracies around the world already offer a range of flexible options for voting. We have looked at how similar options, like advance voting or mobile voting in places like care homes, could work for elections in the UK. 

Our research looked at how these options could be offered within existing systems of electoral administration, keeping the UK’s current paper-based voting with the main day of voting on Thursdays, and keeping current count processes. We focused on the benefits, challenges and workability of various routes for flexible voting.

The information set out here is designed to help inform debate about the future of voting in the UK. Should any flexible voting options be taken forward by a government within the UK, this must be done in a way which is secure, keeps elections free and fair, and is realistically workable and deliverable.   

Delivering flexible voting

We looked at what technology might be needed to deliver flexible voting. This included any hardware or equipment, software and other technical requirements. 

We also explored what was needed in terms of security, network connectivity, specialist knowledge and support. We looked at whether technical requirements might be different for the five voting models.

Polling station registers: paper or electronic?

At the moment most polling stations at elections in the UK use paper copies of electoral registers. These show all the eligible voters in the relevant voting area, and people who have voted are marked off by polling station staff drawing a line against their entry in the register.

The basic models for advance voting, mobile voting and vote elsewhere could still use these paper polling station registers. However, it would make parts of the process more difficult. Other flexible voting options – voting hubs and vote anywhere – would need to use electronic polling station registers.

Using only paper registers could make it harder to update registers about who had voted ahead of polling day. To prevent people voting more than once, it might mean elections staff would need to manually update registers. There would be less time to do this if the advance voting period or mobile voting session took place close to polling day. 

Voting locations would have to keep paper copies of the register for all voters in the relevant area. It could take longer to find voters on the register, especially at higher turnout elections.

Some countries now use electronic polling station registers (sometimes called ‘electronic poll books’ or ‘e-poll books’). These allow polling station staff to use laptops or tablets to search for a voter’s name on the register and mark them as having voted. People who support using these systems say that they allow quicker voter check-in, reduce the risk of human error, and provide real-time information about how many people have voted.

At the May 2022 advance voting pilot schemes in Wales, the pilot authorities used a system which provides electronic registers in the polling station on tablet devices.

Network connectivity

Some flexible voting options would need electronic polling station registers that are connected to a central electoral register, for example by a Wi-Fi network. Connected registers would allow polling station staff to find out in real time whether someone had already cast a vote on a different day or in another location. 

This would be important for several flexible voting options, for example:

  • Advance voting where people can vote in any advance voting centre within an area 
  • Voting hubs that are open at the same time as ordinary polling stations on polling day 
  • Vote anywhere options where people can choose to vote at any polling station within a ward, local authority area or constituency, or from a wider geographical area 

If these options only used paper-based registers it would not be possible to provide real-time information about people who had already voted. This would make it harder to prevent people voting more than once.

It might be hard to find reliable network connections in some areas and polling station venues. Mobile signal connectivity surveys and checking venues for Wi-Fi access would be essential in identifying and mitigating any potential connectivity issues.

Electronic registers could potentially still work when not connected and then update once their connections are restored. All flexible voting locations should also have a paper electoral register as a backup in case there are problems with power or connectivity. But this would still make it difficult to provide the right level of security for some flexible voting models.


Using networked electronic registers in polling stations could add security risks to the running of elections. A full security review would be needed before implementing any of the flexible voting options using electronic polling station registers to identify any weaknesses and implement necessary safeguards.

Electoral Management Software (EMS) systems

To support new forms of flexible voting, EMS systems would require further development - for example, to allow relevant documents and register markers to be generated.

Printing ballot papers on demand

We also looked at the option of printing ballot papers on demand in some flexible voting locations, including advance voting centres, voting hubs and vote anywhere polling stations. This happens at early voting centres in Australia. 

Printing ballot papers on demand could be useful in some flexible voting situations – for example, it would remove the need to organise and store mass quantities of different ballot papers in advance voting centres, voting hubs and vote anywhere locations – and would remove the risk of ballot shortages. 

However, it would require dedicated printers, plus other hardware and software capable of working alongside the electronic register and EMS systems, as well as back-up equipment and robust security features. There would also need to be enough space in venues to hold this equipment and suitable IT facilities in the buildings.

Technical support

Technical support would need to be provided to Returning Officers and their staff, to help them identify and resolve any issues to do with electronic registers or other technology.

We also looked at the possible resource requirements of flexible voting.

Any introduction of flexible voting needs a full impact assessment, including an assessment of the costs and the benefits of implementing it. The government would also need to put a new funding mechanism in place to support roll out of flexible voting.

Building hire, transport and storage

Returning Officers would need to find and hire suitable buildings to host advance voting centres and voting hubs. The buildings would need to be available for the voting period, accessible, conveniently located, big enough to accommodate polling booths, ballot boxes and other voting equipment, comfortable and safe.

Advance voting centres and voting hubs would need to serve heavily populated urban areas and rural locations. When deciding on how many venues are needed in an area, it would be important to think about the distances voters would need to travel to the venue, whether there are good transport links and easy parking.

Mobile voting would require suitable vehicles to transport mobile voting teams and equipment to voting locations. Finding and maintaining the vehicles would have significant cost implications, although it is possible that money could be saved if staff used their own vehicles and were compensated for mileage and fuel use.

Votes cast ahead of polling day would need to be securely transported and stored until they were counted. The cost of doing this would depend on how many days the voting period lasted for. 

Some flexible voting options – for example, those where voters were allowed to vote from outside of the area in which they were registered to vote and where ballot papers were ‘geographically dispersed’ – would require ballot boxes to be transported back to the home constituency, local authority or count centre. This could add to the cost and timing of declaring the results of the election.


The Returning Officer would need to recruit and train extra staff to support the roll-out of flexible voting. Depending on the flexible voting option, staff may need different skills, experience and training. For example, dedicated mobile voting teams would need to operate a mobile voting service.

Election equipment

Some types of flexible voting would need new equipment. For example, mobile voting sites would need polling booths or portable voting screens to protect the secrecy of the ballot. Some options would also require extra equipment, such as additional ballot boxes, voting stationery and accessibility equipment.

Information technology (IT)

Returning Officers would need hardware devices (for example, tablets or laptops) and other IT equipment to roll-out electronic polling station registers. It could be challenging to get enough equipment to roll-out electronic registers across the country. 

Options might include local authorities supplying their own devices or renting the equipment from suppliers. Other suppliers could enter the electronic register market, increasing competition, lowering prices and improving the ability of the industry to meet demand.

There might be other IT costs. For example, to print ballot papers on demand venues would need additional hardware and software (for example, printers).

For some vote anywhere options, the systems would need to be capable of operating across multiple electoral registers. This would mean electoral register solutions might need further technical development.

Electoral Management Software (EMS) systems

EMS systems would need updating to support the roll-out of flexible voting.


Local authorities and the electoral community – including the Commission, if practices were adopted at scale – would need to consider the cost of developing and running campaigns to raise awareness of new voting methods.

Campaigning costs

Flexible voting could have an impact on the cost of campaigns and how campaigning is approached by parties and candidates. 

This factor considers if it is possible to deliver flexible voting under existing electoral law.

Electoral pilot schemes

Under Section 10 of the Representation of the People Act (RPA) 2000, local authorities in England and Wales can apply to the Secretary of State/Welsh Ministers to run electoral pilot schemes. Local authorities in Scotland can apply to the Scottish Ministers under Section 5 of the Scottish Local Government (Elections) Act 2002 to carry out pilot schemes. 

Electoral pilot schemes can involve changes to when, where and how voting at local government elections is to take place, how votes cast are counted, or candidates sending election communications free of postage charges.

The RPA 2000 provided the legal framework for six separate rounds of electoral pilot schemes (some of which included advance voting) that took place between 2000 and 2007. It also provided the basis for the four advance voting pilots that took place in Wales in May 2022.

This legislation could potentially be used to conduct further flexible voting pilot schemes.

The Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill contains new piloting powers that would allow Welsh Ministers, local authorities and EROs to propose electoral pilots across different areas. It would also allow Welsh Ministers to compel local authorities to take part in electoral pilots if required. Any future pilots relating to devolved Welsh elections would presumably be progressed via this legislation rather than the RPA 2000. 

New legislation

Electoral law sets out the detailed rules for how elections and voting are run. Governments would need to introduce new legislation to be able to roll out flexible voting permanently. This is likely to include changing primary legislation (Acts of Parliament) and secondary legislation (rules and regulations).

The UK Parliament can change the rules for UK parliamentary general elections, all English local government elections, Police and Crime Commissioner elections and Northern Ireland Assembly and local government elections.

The Scottish Parliament and Senedd are responsible for making the rules for Scottish Parliament, Scottish local council, Senedd and Welsh local government elections. 

Flexible voting would have specific operational implications. Voters and electoral administrators would need clear procedures for voting, supported by effective legislation and practical guidance.

New procedures

Flexible voting would require procedures that could differ from conventional voting (for example, mobile voting). 

Elections staff would require practical training on what is required, including:

  • How to conduct mobile voting in different locations
  • How to process advance voting, voting hub, vote anywhere or vote elsewhere voters
  • How to use electronic registers in voting venues
  • How to manage any changes to procedures at the close of poll and the count 

This training would be supported by new guidance

Impact on electoral administration

Electoral services teams already deliver other important tasks to run elections. These are often driven by key deadlines within the electoral timetable. Flexible voting could impact the ability of electoral services teams to carry out their normal election duties.

Flexible voting supported by electronic registers would need back-up options in the event of technical failure, for example, using a paper-based system.

Local authorities would need plans for any potential technical problems they could face due to flexible voting. 


Returning Officers would need to plan effectively for the implementation of flexible voting. This would involve staffing and training requirements, managing the venues hosting flexible voting and working with suppliers and contractors to help with implementation.

Returning Officers would need to think about any new risks linked to flexible voting. They would need to develop plans with the police to maintain the integrity of the election. 

They would also need to plan communications activities to raise awareness of the changes.

Flexible voting would need to consider the impact of changes on the capacity and resilience of the electoral administration system.

Timing and phasing of implementation

There are already significant changes being made to the way elections are run. Implementing flexible voting would mean making further changes. 

Any decision to introduce flexible voting would therefore need to be planned and project managed carefully to ensure successful delivery of change. 

Changes to election law relating to flexible voting would need to be clear at least six months ahead of a scheduled poll.