Local Elections: Frequently Asked Questions

Thea Ridley-Castle, Research and Policy Officer

Posted on the 17th April 2023

In the run-up to the May local elections we often hear the same questions being asked by concerned voters. We thought we’d collect together the answers for some of the most frequently asked questions, we are here to help answer any questions you may have about the local elections so our readers are fully informed of what is, and isn’t allowed.

Q: Why do some parties go under different names on ballot papers?

Have you spotted local candidates going under unexpected labels?

Parties can use a description as an alternative to their party name on the ballot paper. Parties are allowed to register up to 12 descriptions for their party. However, this description must make the party clearly identifiable to the public. If the Electoral Commission is of the opinion that the description is not identifiable enough for a voter to determine the party associated they will not allow that description to be registered or used on any voting material (The parameters for the acceptance of the description are set out in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA).

Liberal Democrats can choose to stand as ‘Focus Team’, a name used to brand their local leaflets, Conservatives can run as ‘Local Conservatives’ and Labour candidates can run as ‘Glasgow Labour’ – although presumably they would only do this in Glasgow.

UKIP found out the dangers of this when they accidentally ran under the description ‘Fresh Choice for London’ rather than their party name in London in 2012 – and blamed the mix-up for their bad performance.

Q: Can political parties handle postal ballot applications?

Political parties are allowed to handle postal ballot applications, electoral registration forms and absent vote application forms under certain circumstances. The Electoral Commission have created a Code of Conduct for campaigners which goes above and beyond the legal minimum, to lay out what is considered acceptable behaviour during the lead-up to polling day.

Electoral registration and Absentee vote forms

The Electoral Commissions’ Code of Conduct for Campaigners recommends that if campaigners are handling electoral registration forms or absent ballot applications they should “ensure that the local Electoral Registration Officer’s address is clearly provided as the preferred address for the return of registration and absent vote application forms” and return the completed form to the local Electoral Registration Officer within 2 days. This is to make sure that voters make their own choice about how to return their forms and to “minimise the risk of suspicion that completed applications could be altered or inadvertently lost or destroyed”.

Postal vote applications

Campaigners are allowed to handle postal ballot applications and create their own postal application forms; if they create their own postal vote application forms they must liaise with local councils and the Electoral Commission to ensure when they produce postal application forms they include the prescribed fields set out by the Electoral Commission.

Campaigners cannot advise voters to have their postal voting pack sent to any address other than the voters registered address. The same principles of returning the forms apply to postal vote applications as electoral registration and absentee forms.

Q: Can political parties handle postal voting ballots?

No, political parties and campaigners cannot handle postal voting ballots. Campaigners cannot help anyone complete their ballot paper and they must ensure if they are with a voter when they are completing their ballot that the ballot is completed in private and make sure the ballot in a sealed by the voter immediately. The campaigner must not exert any undue influence on the voter and cannot return the postal ballot for the voter. If the campaigner is asked to return the postal ballot or assist with the completion of the postal voting ballot the campaigner must refer this to the Returning Officer and not assist in this process unless given express permission by the Returning Officer.

Q: Can students vote twice in local elections?

Anyone with two houses can vote in elections in two different council areas, they can register and vote in both areas. While they will effectively vote twice, they vote once in each two separate council area, same as everyone else. Students make up a large group of people with two addresses, so this issue often comes up in towns and cities with universities. To do this vote in both areas, the student must be registered on the electoral roll at their term-time address and their home address.

Students are allowed to vote in two different council areas for:

  • the local council elections in England,
  • the Police and Crime Commissioner elections
  • mayoral elections.

As the following votes are a single contest, Students are not allowed to vote twice in:

  • UK Parliament elections
  • UK referendums
  • London Assembly and London Mayoral elections

You must choose one address to vote in these elections. For more information check out the Electoral Commission website.

If you have seen something you want to ask about, send us an email at ers@electoral-reform.org.uk and we’ll add the answer to this article!

Do you want to see fairer elections across the UK?

Members support our work in parliament, in the press and online – making the case, and backing it up – for how we can fix Westminster’s broken system.

Become an ERS Member today

Read more posts...