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Voting and elections: what you need to know

A hand dropping a folded ballot into a ballot box.

A hand dropping a folded ballot into a ballot box.

All voters have a right to vote independently and in secret, and local authorities have to ensure that polling stations are accessible to people with sight loss.

May 2023 local elections

As a result of the Elections Act 2022, voters will now be required to bring photo ID to polling stations in order to vote for some elections. This includes the local elections in England on 4 May, where photo ID is required for the first time.

For voters who don’t have any photo ID, there are currently two options. You can either apply for a free voter certificate, known as the Voter Authority Certificate, or you can apply for a postal vote, where photo ID is not a requirement.

  • The deadline to apply for a Voter Authority Certificate for the May local elections in England is 5pm on Tuesday 25 April.
  • The deadline to apply for a postal vote for the May local elections in England is 5pm on Tuesday 18 April.

Find out more about what forms of photo ID will be accepted at the polling station and different ways you can apply for a Voter Authority Certificate, in an Electoral Commission guide made with our support:

Accessibility on election day

Following the Elections Act 2022, Returning Officers – officials who oversee elections – are now required to make provisions for disabled people to enable an independent and secret vote. Returning Officers must follow Electoral Commission accessibility guidance.

To support blind and partially sighted voters, all polling stations are required to have:

  • A tactile voting device.
  • A large print copy of the ballot paper for reference.
  • Magnifiers.
  • Additional lighting.
  • Assistance from polling station staff to be guided to the voting booth and to mark your vote if needed.

Returning Officers are also required to anticipate what is needed in their area and can provide additional equipment, such as audio devices to enable someone to vote independently and in secret.

How can you request a reasonable adjustment?

We would encourage you to write to your local Returning Officer or local electoral services, to notify them that you require reasonable adjustments in order to vote independently. To find their contact information, you can use the Electoral Commission’s postcode look up tool, and use our template notification letter to get in touch:

Guidance has also been issued to polling station staff to make it clear that mobile phone apps (such as “Seeing AI” which can use Artificial Intelligence to read out printed text), or video magnifying devices, can be used by blind and partially sighted people to vote as a reasonable adjustment.

More about accessible voting

Large print ballot form

By law, every polling station must display a large print copy of the ballot paper for reference. They must also provide a reference copy for you to take into the booth with you. You can use the large print copy to read all the information on the ballot form, but you must still cast your vote on a standard print ballot paper.

Tactile voting device

If you have difficulty completing the standard print ballot paper, you can use a tactile voting device to help mark your vote in the correct place. Under the Electoral Commission guidance, each polling station is required to provide a tactile device for people with sight loss.

The tactile voting device has a sticky backing, which attaches on top of your ballot paper. It has numbered lift up flaps (the numbers are raised and in braille) directly over the boxes where you mark your vote.

You will need to use the large print ballot form or ask someone (a companion or polling station staff) to read out the list of candidates to you. The candidates are in alphabetical order. You will need to remember the number of the candidate you wish to vote for, then lift the flap with the same number and mark your cross (X) in the box.

You can then detach the tactile device and fold your ballot paper in half before posting it in the ballot box.

Audio provision

To know the order of the candidates on the ballot paper you can send a request to your local Returning Officer for audio provision. They may be able to provide a device that can read out the order of the candidates as listed on the ballot paper, or share an audio file ahead of the elections with the list of candidates, in the order they appear on the ballot paper.

Help at the polling station

If you have difficulty using both the large print ballot paper and the tactile voting device, you can also request somebody to help you at the polling station. They can help guide you between the entrance, desk, polling booth and ballot box. They can also vote on your behalf if that is your preference.

The person helping you could be one of the polling stations staff or your own companion. Following changes introduced in the Elections Act, your companion can be anyone over 18. Your companion will be required to make a written declaration that you have asked for assistance.

Vote by proxy

If you are registered to vote but will be unable to get to a polling station to vote, you can appoint someone you trust to go to your polling station to vote on your behalf. This is called voting by proxy.

Unlike postal voting, you do need to give a reason for your proxy vote. Explaining you find it difficult to get to the polling station because of your sight loss or another disability should suffice.

You'll need to register to vote by proxy at least six working days before the election by completing an application form (there are different application forms depending on your reason for requesting a proxy vote) and sending it back to your local electoral registration office. Unless you are registered as blind you will need someone to support your application (such as a GP or social worker).

You can call your local authority's election services to get one of these forms.

Postal voting

You can apply to vote by post rather than going to a polling station.

If you have registered to vote by post you will be sent your ballot paper. You can cast your vote in your own home using your own magnifiers or equipment, rather than going to your polling station.

You can also request assistance at home, including a tactile voting device, a large print ballot form for reference, and help with returning your completed ballot form.