Who can I vote for? How do I vote? What everyone needs to know for the May elections

Tara Azar, former Student Placement

Posted on the 23rd April 2021

May sees elections for around 5,000 seats in England, votes for the Mayor of London and London Assembly, the Senedd (Welsh Parliament), the Scottish Parliament (Holyrood), and Police and Crime Commissioner elections.

Holyrood and the Welsh Parliament control health services, schooling, transport as well as some taxes (plus much more besides). Councils account for a whopping one-quarter of public spending, and they’ve stepped up their roles during the pandemic.

None of us would give away 25% of your hard-earned cash without asking any questions – which is why taking part in our elections is so crucial.

Your vote is a decision on where that money goes, and how your area should be run. So it’s all the more worrying to learn that 6 in 10 people don’t know the date of the elections, according to polling commissioned by Citizens UK.

All the more reason to get clued up, and spread the word. You can find out who is running in your area with Democracy Club’s ‘Who Can I Vote For?’ tool.

Different options for casting your vote

Despite a lot of funding going into safety measures to ensure Covid-19 rules are being put into place inside the polling station, some people may still feel anxious about going into their local polling station to vote.

The deadline to register has now passed, as has the deadline to apply for a postal vote.

If you’re unable to vote in person, you can also ask someone to vote on your behalf with a proxy vote. But unlike postal votes, you need to have a clear reason, such as: being away on polling day, having a medical issue or disability, or not being able to vote in person because of work or military service.

To apply for a proxy vote you need to send a paper form to your local Electoral Registration Office. Usually, you need to apply for a proxy vote at least 6 working days before election day if you want to vote in England, Scotland or Wales.

If you want to vote by proxy on 6th May 2021, your application form must arrive at your local Electoral Registration Office by 27 April at 5pm – and again, you need to be registered in advance.

In event of an emergency that you couldn’t foresee before the deadline for ordinary proxy applications, you can appoint an emergency proxy up to 5pm on polling day. Usually, this would be things such as an unexpected trip to A&E, but also covers being told to self-isolate by Track and Trace.

Registration revolution

Despite First Past the Post being a terrible way to run local elections in England, we are still fortunate to have a say in what happens in our local areas. And in the Scottish and Welsh parliaments, voters use the more proportional Additional Member System, making their voice count even more. So, let’s make sure we get out there.

Saying that, there’s a lot that needs to be changed to improve our elections – including sorting out the out-dated registration system.

That’s why the Electoral Reform Society has called for a major push to bring in the ‘missing millions’ of unregistered voters.

The latest figures from the Electoral Commission show 17% of eligible voters in Great Britain are not registered at their current address, representing as many as 9.4 million people unable to use their right to vote.

A ‘huge swathe’ of the population is potentially being locked out of this May’s election due to a fragmented and outdated system.

In England, 7-8.1 million people who are eligible to be on the local government registers are not correctly registered. Between 630,000-890,000 potential voters are also missing in Scotland.

Electoral Commission analysis shows that areas with high concentrations of students, private renters and especially young adults as well as some ethnic minority groups are particularly in danger of having low registration numbers.

Unlike many countries in Europe, voters have to opt into their right to vote in the UK. In the US, many state governments offer voter registration when citizens engage with motor registration or apply for public assistance, and there is currently a major voting rights push underway.

The ERS is calling for a package of measures to bring the UK’s ‘missing millions into the fold, and update the creaking, outdated system:

  1. Allowing voters to check whether they are registered to vote online
  2. Registering voters automatically or when engaging with public bodies
  3. Trialling same-day registration so you can sign up on election day. The heat of an election campaign is when people get most interested in politics
  4. Drawing boundaries on the basis of the total population of eligible voters – rather than just those who are already signed up
  5. Scrapping plans to impose mandatory voter ID, which could lock even more people out of democracy, and further divide our democracy. Millions lack photo ID in the UK

So, get registered, use your vote – and help us push for fair elections for all.

Find out about ERS membership

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