Results and turnout at the 2018 May England local elections


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This report provides analysis on participation in and the administration of the local government elections in England, held on 3 May 2018. For this, data were collected from Returning Officers and Electoral Registration Officers. This comprised the Form K ‘Statement as to Postal Ballot Papers’ and an additional data form, specified by the Commission, which included data relating to electoral registration, turnout, absent voting and rejected ballots.

Local elections were scheduled in 67 district, 17 unitary and 34 metropolitan authorities on 3 May 2018. There were also local elections in all 32 London Boroughs. 

There were also city mayoral elections in Hackney, Lewisham, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Watford and combined authority mayoral elections for the Sheffield City Region in Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield. In just 3 wards were candidates elected unopposed.

Electorate21.5 million

Ballot box: 34.7%

Postal vote: 67.0%

In-person: 28.6%

Rejected ballots

Ballots at the count: 0.4%

Postal votes: 2.7%

Proxies appointed

23,724 (0.1% of the electorate)

793 emergency proxies



The local government elections gave 21.5 million registered electors the opportunity to vote; 5.2 million in district councils, 10.3 million in unitary and metropolitan authorities and 5.9 million in London Boroughs.

A total of 198,003 electors (0.9% of the electorate in contested wards) were added to the electoral register during the weeks leading up to the elections.

A total of 351,271 applications to register were received in the weeks leading up to the election. Almost a quarter (24%) of these was recorded as duplicates1.

In addition, 76,036 individuals applied to register to vote after the registration deadline. 1,325 individuals were recorded as trying to vote on polling day despite not being registered.

Votes were cast at 14,381 polling stations as well as by post.


The measure of turnout referred to in this report, ‘ballot box turnout’, includes all valid votes cast (‘valid vote turnout’) and votes rejected at the count. Total turnout refers to valid votes cast, votes rejected at the count and those rejected at the postal ballot verification stage before the count.

Table 3.1 confirms that only a small fraction of the total votes cast are not valid.

 ElectorateValid vote turnoutBallot box turnoutTotal turnoutDifference valid vote - total (pp)
London Borough5.9m38.9%39.0%39.3%0.4


 ElectorateValid vote turnoutBallot box turnoutTotal turnoutDifference valid vote - total (pp)
London borough5.8m38.2%38.5%38.9%0.7

Ballot box turnout was 34.7%, which is lower than the turnout at the most comparable local government elections in 2014 (35.7%).

There are variations from the overall mean turnout when turnout is examined at the local authority level. The highest turnout was observed across London boroughs and district councils, while turnout was lower across unitary and metropolitan councils. Table 3.2 shows the highest and lowest turnouts across each type of local authority. The highest turnout observed was in Richmond upon Thames where 51.4% of registered electors cast a ballot. The lowest turnout was in Hartlepool where 24.0% cast a ballot.

Table 3.2: Turnout 2018

South Lakeland47.4%Havant28.6%
Winchester44.2%Cannock Chase27.9%
Mole Valley43.2%Broxbourne27.2%
Newcastle Upon Tyne38.9%Knowsley25.0%
London boroughLondon borough
Richmond upon Thames51.4%Lambeth34.0%
Kingston Upon Thames47.3%Southwark33.6%
Barnet43.8%Barking and Dagenham29.7%



Rejected ballot papers

The proportion of ballots rejected at official counts was 0.4 %. This compares with 0.6% at the 2014 local elections. The rejection rate at 6 metropolitan council elections was lower than at elections for other types of local authority (0.3% compared with 0.4%).

The majority of rejected ballots (64.9%) were rejected due to being unmarked or wholly void for uncertainty. More than a quarter (28.4%) were rejected due to voting for more candidates than allowed.

Table 3.3: Reasons for rejected ballots, 2018

 No official markVoting for more candidatesMark by which voter could be identifiedUnmarkedRejected in part
London borough1.1%32.6%3.2%57.3%5.8%


Postal voting

The total number of postal votes issued for these elections was 3.6 million, representing 16.7% of all electors with a contested election in their ward. This compares with 15.8% at the 2014 local elections.

At a local authority level, electors registered for a postal vote ranged from 41.8% in Sunderland to 8.8% in Halton.

Postal voting was more common in metropolitan authorities where 18.1 % of the electorate (1.5 million electors) were issued with a postal ballot paper compared with 16.6% in districts, 15.5% in London boroughs and 15.4% in unitary authorities.

Table 4.1: Highest and lowest proportions of postal voters

Noewcastle Upon Tyne36.1%


Epping Forest10.1%

The proportion of postal voters returning their ballot papers always exceeds the turnout among ‘in person’ voters. This year, 67.0%2 postal electors used their postal vote compared with 28.6% who turned up to vote in person3.

Postal votes accounted for 31.4% of all votes included at the count. This compares with 29.3% in 2014.

Rejected postal ballots

Rejected postal ballots Postal voting packs (PV) require voters to provide their signature and date of birth (DOB). These identifiers are then matched against those provided at the time of application. If the signature or date of birth is missing or does not match, the postal vote is rejected and is not included at the count.

Since 2014, Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) have been required to notify electors if their postal vote has been rejected and give the reason(s) for rejection. They can also request the elector to provide an up-to-date signature.

The total rate of rejection across elections was 2.7%, which represents a decrease from 4.7% in 20144. The overall fall in levels of rejected postal votes suggests that the new policy may be having a positive impact overall.

Table 4.2: Rejected postal ballots as % of envelopes returned

London borough4.2%2.9%

About two-thirds (64.5%) of rejected ballots were rejected due to mismatched information. In over a quarter of cases (26.1%) postal ballots were rejected due to missing information, and about a fifth (19.4%) of rejected postal ballots were rejected as voters failed to include either the ballot paper itself or the verification statement or both.

 Table 4.4: Reasons for postal vote statement rejection returned, 2018

Missing informationSignature10.0%
Date of birth6.7%
Mismatched informationSignature27.5%
Date of birth26.6%
Missing formsBallot paper11.1%
PV statement8.3%

These figures are percentages of the total, small number of rejected ballots. For example, although 64.5% of rejected postal votes were rejected due to mismatched information, this represents 1.7% of covering envelopes received and 0.5% of all votes cast. The vast majority of postal voters did cast their vote correctly.

Proxies and waivers

A total of 23,724 electors appointed a proxy (0.1 % of the electorate) for the local government elections. This is consistent with levels in 2014.

The number of emergency proxies issued was 793. This is higher than in 2014, 530 emergency proxies were issued.

A concession granted under the terms of the EAA 2006 was that postal electors who either had a disability, or were illiterate, or were unable to furnish a consistent signature could apply for a waiver to use their date of birth as their sole identifier. A total of 18,256 waivers were granted, representing 0.5% of postal electors.

Mayoral elections

Together with the local government elections there were city mayoral elections in Hackney, Lewisham, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Watford. There was also a Combined Authority Mayoral Election for the Sheffield City Region in Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield. Details of turnout, rejected ballots and postal voting can be found in Table 6.1.

 Ballot box turnoutRejected ballotsPostal votes issuedPostal vote turnout
Tower Hamlet42.0%3.2%16.2%67.4%
Sheffield City region25.8%1.8%21.7%57.0%



Last updated: 6 August 2019
Next review: 4 July 2020