These are all the things you can and can't do in a polling station

It is polling day tomorrow – and when you head off to put your cross in the box you need to be aware of the things you can and cannot do.

By Darren Burke
Monday, 9th December 2019, 2:55 pm
Updated Tuesday, 10th December 2019, 4:01 pm

Across the country on Thursday, Britain will go to the polls to vote for their new MPs – and most will be heading to their local polling station to make their vote.

But there are some strict rules around what you can and can’t do when you go along to place your x.

These are the definitive "do’s and ‘don’t’s", as approved by the Electoral Commission.

There are strict rules about what you can do in a polling station.

Can candidates stand inside the polling station when I cast my vote?

Yes – but they must not "disrupt voting or attempt to canvass voters". And of course, they can come in to cast their own votes.

The same goes for police officers, election agents or polling booth staff, as well as anyone from the Electoral Commission who may be observing.

Polling agents can also be there to make sure people are not impersonating other voters or trying to vote twice – but it is not allowed for more than one polling agent to be inside the polling station as any given time.

Polling Station, Sheffield Town Hall - June 8th General Election 2017.

If you are under the age of 18, you can accompany someone into the polling station, but again you cannot disrupt or compromise the proceedings (e.g. by being noisy, running around or shouting out how people have voted).

Can staff at the polling station wear coloured clothing?

Yes – but they can’t wear anything which could influence a voter’s decision.

The commission’s handbook states the atmosphere in a polling station should be "business-like and friendly, and polling station staff should dress accordingly."

Polling station staff don’t have to wear suits or anything else overly formal, but they cannot wear any "badges, slogans or colours" which could “bring their impartiality into question".

Does my polling station have to be wheelchair-accessible?

Yes – there are very strict guidelines about disabled or vulnerable people to make sure they can vote and feel comfortable inside the polling station.

These include making sure a wheelchair can access all parts of the site, providing a low-level booth, ensuring the ballot box is at a suitable height, and displaying notices so they can be read by people who are visually impaired.

Chairs are also provided for those who cannot stand for long periods of time (if there is a queue to vote), and all polling agents must be “positioned so that they do not interfere with the proceedings” (for instance, looking over people’s shoulders).

Do I have to have my polling card with me when I vote?

No – but you will be asked to confirm your name and address before you can be issued with a ballot paper.

The only exception is if you are voting anonymously – for instance, to protect your identity if you have been a victim of domestic abuse or harassment.

To vote anonymously, you must have notified your local authority in advance and may be required to produce legal documents to support your case.

Do I have to bring ID with me to vote?

No – not at this election.

The only part of the UK at which voters need to produce ID is in Northern Ireland - you do not require ID to vote anywhere in England, Wales or Scotland.

If someone asks you for ID and tries to stop you voting, report this immediately to the polling staff or a police officer if they are present.

Do I have to vote with the pencil provided?

No – you are allowed to vote with a pen if you bring your own, provided it is in black or dark blue ink.

Pencils have been historically used at polling station, but the commission confirmed at the time of the 2016 EU referendum that there was "no legal requirement" to use pencils instead of pens.

Can I take my dog (or other pets) to the polling station?

Yes – so long as they are kept under control and don’t disrupt proceedings.

In recent elections, it’s become traditional for people to post pictures of their dogs outside where they are voting, using the hashtag #dogsatpollingstations on Twitter.

If you have a dog, it can come into the polling station but you mustn’t let it cause chaos – if you’re worried it could attack other voters or damage the property, tie it up outside or leave it at home.

And of course, if it fouls inside the building, you must clean up after it.

If you have a larger animal, such as a horse, you can bring it to the polling station but it must be tied up outside.

Do I have to vote for any of the candidates?

No – if none of the candidates or parties match your ideas or expectations, you can spoil your ballot.

Examples of how to do this include writing your name on the ballot paper, putting more than one cross in the box by the candidates’ names, or leaving the ballot paper blank.

When the votes are counted after the polls close, all spoiled ballots have to be verified – meaning that all the candidates for a given area must look at it and agree that it should be counted as spoiled, rather than a vote for a given person.

If, therefore, you are really unhappy, you can leave your candidates a message on your ballot paper, which they by law will have to read.

Can I take photos inside the polling station?

Yes – but be very careful.

It is illegal to "communicate or publicise" anything which could “potentially breach the secrecy of the ballot requirements”.

This includes taking a picture of your own ballot paper – whether you have filled it in or not – or anything which reveals how someone has voted or intends to vote.

If you are caught doing this, you could face a fine of up to £5,000 and possibly up to six months in prison.

Technically you can take a photo inside a polling station without this happening – for instance, a selfie with a blank wall as the background – but it's best to play it safe and leave your snaps for until you’re outside.

When are polling stations open?

All polling stations will be open from 7am until 10pm.

Busy periods will vary from place to place, but if the most recent general elections are anything to go by, it’s not a good idea to leave it until the last minute to vote.