Voters across the UK are heading to the polls today to vote in local elections.
Every council seat in Scotland, Wales and London is up for grabs, as well as many other parts of England, while Northern Ireland will elect its new assembly.
Bin collections, the state of roads and access to local hospitals and libraries tend to decide these elections, as opposed to issues like the economy and immigration which dominate the conversation during a general election.
If you are planning to head to the polls today here is everything you need to know – including whether you can bring your own pen.
Can I bring my own pen to vote?
When you go to vote at your polling station you will be provided with a pencil, but it is perfectly fine to bring your own pencil or pen to cast your ballot with.
In the past there have been unfounded fears that the use of pencils increases the possibility of fraud, as people could rub out the chosen party and write a new one.
This fear was extremely pronounced at the Brexit referendum when Leave voters were urged to take pens with them to stop people from tampering with their ballots. At the time, some wrongly believed there was an MI5 plot to manipulate the vote.
This was entirely unsubstantiated, but the Electoral Commission has reiterated that voters are well within their rights to bring a pen if they want to.
Do I need my polling card to vote?
No, you do not need to take your polling card with you to vote, so don’t worry if you haven’t received it or have misplaced it.
Your polling card is simply to remind you that elections are happening and tell you which polling station you need to attend.
What do I need to bring?
If you are voting in England, Scotland or Wales you do not need to bring anything with you to the polling station.
All you need to do when you arrive is tell the presiding officer or poll clerk your name and address so that they can check if you’re on the electoral register.
They will then cross your name off their list, and give you a ballot paper (or more than one, if you are voting in multiple elections) listing the parties and candidates you can vote for.
Read these carefully and then cast your vote before folding your ballot paper in half and putting it into the ballot box.
If you make a mistake, you can ask for a new ballot paper (as long as you haven’t put it in the ballot box yet) – a member of staff will be able to help you.
If you are in Northern Ireland you will need photo ID to vote.
This can be any of the following:
- Electoral Identity Card
- UK, Irish or EEA driving license (photographic part, provisional accepted)
- UK, Irish or EU passport
- Translink Senior SmartPass
- Translink 60+ SmartPass
- Translink War Disabled SmartPass
- Translink Blind Person’s SmartPass
How do I find my local polling station?
Your polling station, which is likely to be a public building such as a school or community hall close to your address, will be included on the polling card sent to you in the post. You must vote at your allocated polling station.
If you have misplaced or not received your card, you can check on the Electoral Commission website by entering your postcode here. If it doesn’t have the details of your polling station, the website will have the local council contacts you can use to check.
Polling stations will be open from 7am to 10pm on the day of the election.
Where are elections happening?
On 5 May people will go to the polls to vote for:
- Every local authority in Scotland, Wales and London
- South Yorkshire’s regional mayor, plus the borough councils of Barnsley and Sheffield
- 60 district councils, 31 Metropolitan boroughs and 19 unitary authorities across the rest of England
- County councils in North Yorkshire and Somerset
- All 90 seats in the Northern Ireland assembly
- Local mayors in Croydon, Hackney, Lewisham, Newham, Tower Hamlets and Watford
There is also a referendum in Bristol on whether to keep or abolish the position of the city’s elected mayor.
Who are my local candidates?
The Democracy Club has an online checker, “Who Can I Vote For?”, which lists candidates standing in your area.
Simply enter your postcode, and it will show you the full list of elections you can vote in on polling day, with a brief guide to each of the individuals standing.