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How to vote in the May 2021 election and where to find your local polling station

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Local elections will be held this Thursday, May 6, with around 48 million people eligible to vote, after a year of delay due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As a result of this postponement, there will be a greater number of contested positions in 2021, the largest since the reorganization of local government in 1973.

In England, you may be asked to vote for local councilors, a police and crime commissioner or your local mayor.

In Scotland and Wales, people will have the opportunity to elect MPs to their decentralized parliament – Holyrood in Scotland and the Senedd in Wales.

With over 5,000 positions of power at stake, here’s everything you need to know about voting.

Who has the right to vote in a local election in the UK?

To vote in a local election in the UK, a person must be registered to vote and also:

  • 18 years or older (16 in Scotland and Wales)
  • be a UK citizen, eligible Commonwealth citizen or citizen of the European Union
  • be resident in the UK
  • not be subject to legal incapacity to vote

In the UK, Commonwealth and Irish citizens enjoy the same civic rights as UK citizens, namely:

  • the right to vote in all elections (i.e. legislative, local, referendum and European elections) as long as they have registered to vote (they must have a valid authorization to enter / stay or not have need such a leave on the date of their voter registration application).
  • the right, unless otherwise disqualified, to stand for election to the UK House of Commons as long as they are permitted to remain indefinitely or do not need permission under the 1971 Act of immigration to enter or stay in the UK.
  • the right, in the case of a peer or a qualified bishop, to sit in the House of Lords.
  • eligibility for public office (eg as judge, magistrate, minister, police officer, member of the armed forces, etc.).
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The following people cannot vote in a local election in the UK:

  • anyone other than UK citizens, eligible Commonwealth or EU citizens
  • convicts held in execution of their sentence (although defendants, unconvicted prisoners and civilian prisoners can vote if they are registered on the electoral register)
  • anyone found guilty in the previous five years of corrupt or illegal election-related practices.

Although members of the House of Lords cannot vote in general elections, they can vote in elections for local authorities, decentralized legislatures and the European Parliament.

Likewise, while EU citizens cannot vote in general elections in the UK, they can vote in elections for local authorities, decentralized legislatures and the European Parliament.

How to vote and when is the deadline?

You can vote in person at your local polling station on May 6, or if you cannot attend the same day; by mail or by proxy (by designating a person to vote on your behalf).

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The deadline to register to vote in person was closed on April 19, while the deadline to register for a postal vote closed a day later, on April 20.

If you want to vote in person, you cannot come to any polling station – you have to go to the one to which you are assigned.

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Your voting card, which you will receive in the mail, is the easiest way to find out where you are registered to vote. It will include the name and address of your designated polling station.

If you haven’t received your voter card but know you’ve registered, call your local authority to verify. You can find the contact details using the postal code finder on the About My Vote website.

If you complete a postal vote, it must be with your local council by 10 p.m. on polling day to be counted.

If you do not mail your ballots and mail ballot in time for them to arrive on polling day, you can hand deliver them on polling day. This can be done at any polling station in your local council or at the voter registration office in your area.

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Your local council’s election services team can also accept a scanned copy of your form via email, but you should check with them first.

The deadline to register for a proxy vote was April 27, although emergency proxy votes are available until 5 p.m. on polling day if voters have to self-isolate due to Covid -19.

How can I vote in person and will it be secured by Covid?

Step one: meet at your local polling station

Polling stations will be required to secure voting by Covid and social distancing will be in place. You will probably also need to wear a face mask when voting.

Voters are encouraged to bring their own pens or pencils – and those who have been protected to vote by mail.

If you need help getting to the polling station, contact your voter registration office to see if they can help you. You can also ask to have a companion with you when you vote, or polling station staff may be able to help you.

When you arrive, let the polling station staff know your name and address so they can verify that you are on the electoral register. You don’t need to take your voting card with you, but a lot of people do.

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Polling station staff represent the returning officer (acting) and must act impartially at all times.

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