Voters across England will be heading to their local polling station to cast their ballot in the local elections until 10pm.
More than 4,000 seats are being contested in around 150 councils. Mayoral elections are also taking place in a handful of areas.
Most councils will be counting votes overnight on Thursday, with results expected to trickle in all through Friday.
But first the voting. While it’s a largely straightforward process – turn up at your local polling station, select your candidate and post your ballot into the box – you might have a few questions that need clearing up first…
Can I bring my boyfriend/girlfriend/partner/the person I woke up with this morning?
If they are eligible to vote at your polling station, they can come in. But you have to go into the polling booth alone to fill out your ballot paper. Otherwise they’ll need to wait outside.
What about my screaming children?
The Electoral Commission encourages parents to bring their children along to help them feel involved in the democratic process early. But they can’t vote (unless they’re over 18) and they can’t sign your ballot paper for you.
Your dog can go into the polling station if that building and the voting officers allow it. But if it is a building where dogs are not usually allowed to enter, they will have to be left outside. Actually, taking your canine to vote has become something of a tradition…
What about my cat? Hamster? Horse?
There is no specific guidance about other animals. Best to check with the voting officers.
Do I have to go to my allocated polling station?
Yes you do.
Can I eat in the polling station?
With no rules on this, there is no reason why you can’t.
What about if I turn up drunk?
You can still vote. No one can turn you away just because it appears like you have been drinking. But if you’re disruptive then you may be asked to leave the station.
I can’t find my polling card or ID!
Don’t worry, you don’t need your polling card to vote. You may need your ID, however. This year voters in Bromley, Gosport, Swindon, Watford and Woking will need their identification to vote. The council areas are taking part in the voter ID pilot scheme to see if it can stamp out alleged electoral fraud through voter impersonation. The scheme will be evaluated before a decision is made whether to roll it out nationally. If you’re voting anywhere else, don’t worry, you won’t need your ID for the local elections.
Do I have to fill out my ballot paper with a cross?
A cross next to your selected candidate on the ballot paper is preferable and easiest for counters to read, but other marks are allowed.
What about a star?
While we wouldn’t encourage you to fill out your ballot paper in any way that may jeopardise your vote, selecting your candidate with a star in the corresponding box should be OK. A ballot paper cannot be rejected if the intention to give a vote for one candidate clearly appears on the ballot paper. The rules read: “A ballot paper […] shall not […] be deemed to be void if an intention that the vote shall be for one or other of the candidates clearly appears.”
What about a penis?
A drawing of a penis has, indeed, been interpreted as a vote in favour of a candidate. At the 2015 election in fact.
Can I use my lucky pen?
Sure. Polling stations traditionally provide pencils but there is nothing to stop you using your own stationery.
What if I don’t know who to vote for?
Well whatever you do, don’t start chatting about it. Political discussion is banned in polling stations. And don’t tick or cross more than one option because your vote won’t be counted.
What about if I fill out my ballot paper incorrectly?
You may be issued with a fresh ballot paper. But if you have already posted the incorrect paper in the ballot box, a replacement paper cannot be issued. No autographs, please If counters can make out your name on the ballot paper, even if it is a signature, your vote will not be counted because you have breached the rules of the secret ballot.
Can I take a photo?
The law around this is complex but the Electoral Commission has warned polling station staff against allowing voters to take selfies because it may risk the secrecy of the vote.
Can I post on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram about my vote?
Yes – but don’t post about anyone else’s vote. And it’s best not to do it from inside the polling station, even if it is about your own vote. Anyone who inadvertently reveals how someone else votes could face a £5,000 fine or six months in prison. If you’re taking photos, the Electoral Commission advises it would be better to take a photo outside the polling station to use on social media.
Can I do any last minute campaigning?
No. Polling station staff will ask you to stop if you decide to campaign inside or outside the polling station. And any campaign leaflets will be removed.
What if I really like my Tories T-shirt?
Take it off. Clothing designed to overtly influence voters is not usually allowed at polling stations.
It’s 9:59pm and I’m still queuing outside the polling station! What should I do?
Don’t worry, all voters inside their polling station at 10pm or queuing outside “for the purpose of voting may apply for ballot paper(s),” according to the Electoral Commission.
What happens if I can’t make it?
If you are unable to go to the polling station for one particular election you can choose someone to go for you. It’s called voting by proxy. The deadline has passed if you just want to nominate someone because you’re on holiday – but in certain circumstances, where there is an emergency, you can apply for an emergency proxy up to 5pm on the day of the poll. And if you applied to vote by post, you can return the ballot to the polling station on voting day.
Hang on… I forgot to register to vote!
Then you can’t vote in the local elections unfortunately.