How to vote
Apply to vote by post or proxy
You can apply to vote by post if you are unable to get to a polling station (for example, if you're going to be away on holiday) or by proxy if you aren't able to cast your vote in person and someone you trust can cast your vote on your behalf. If it is too late to apply to vote by post or ordinary proxy, you may be able to apply for an emergency proxy vote (see below).
To be able to vote in an election, your name must be included on the electoral register. View more information on registering to vote.
You can choose to vote in an election in the following ways:
Voting at a polling station during the coronavirus pandemic
You are allowed to leave your house to vote during general coronavirus restrictions.
Polling stations are safe places to vote and the following measures will be in place:
- social distancing (inside and outside venues)
- limits on the number of people inside polling stations
- masks to be worn by staff and voters
- voters to bring their own pen or pencil to mark their ballot paper
- maximum ventilation
- hand sanitiser available
- regular cleaning
You will need to follow the signage and any instructions at your polling station.
Test and Trace is not required for polling stations (unless you remain in the building for some other purpose).
If you have have tested positive for coronavirus, or you are displaying symptoms, you should self-isolate and not go to a polling station.
You will be sent a poll card before an election, showing:
- what election is due to take place
- the date of the election
- where you need to go to vote
You can also view a map of where your polling station is located (please note that details of your local polling station will only be visible when an election is due to be held in your area).
If you did not receive or have lost your poll card, you can still vote in person at your local polling station.
At the polling station
- polling stations are open from 7am to 10pm on the day of the election
- you do not have to take identity documents or your poll card with you
- you do not need to give your name or any other details to anyone outside the polling station
When you enter the polling station, you will see the polling station staff sat next to the ballot box and you should tell them your name and address.
You will be given a ballot paper containing a list of the people, parties or the options you can vote for. Take your ballot paper into a polling booth and mark the ballot paper following the instructions on the notices in the polling booth and on the top of the ballot paper. Fold the ballot paper in half and place it in the ballot box. If you make a mistake on your ballot paper, show the Presiding Officer and ask for a replacement. You can only have a replacement ballot paper if you have not already put your ballot paper in the ballot box.
Voting at a polling station if you have a disability
Everyone has a right to vote independently and in secret and the following support is available for people with disabilities:
- wherever possible, polling stations have disabled access, such as ramps and disabled parking spaces
- if you can't enter the polling station because of a physical disability, then polling station staff can bring your ballot paper to you
- low level polling booths are available in all polling stations
- there is a large print version of the ballot paper displayed in each polling station and a special device so that blind and partially sighted people can vote
- blind and partially sighted people are also able to take their phones into the polling booth to help them to vote, for example to use magnifier or text-to-speech apps, or the phone torch to improve lighting
- if you need support to complete a ballot paper on your own, you can take someone with you to help you, for example a carer or support worker. The person helping you must either be a close relative or someone eligible to vote in that election and they must not already have helped more than one other person to vote at the same election. Alternatively, the member of staff in charge of the polling station can help you mark your ballot paper
If you need any help or advice, just ask the staff at the polling station – they will be happy to help you.
Created with input from people with learning disabilities, the Every Vote Counts website has easy to understand information on politics, including elections and voting. You can also read Mencap's easy read guides to voting and registering to vote.
Read a pocket guide to voting in the elections on 6 May 2021, written by the Royal National Institute for the Blind and the Electoral Commission.
If you are at all concerned about accessing a polling station or voting, please contact Electoral Services.
When you can't get to a polling station
If you can't get to a polling station or will be on holiday or working away from home on election day, there are alternative ways of voting:
Voting by post
Voting by post is an easy and convenient way of voting. You can apply to set up a postal vote for just one election, for example if you're going to be on holiday at the time of the election, or for a specific period of time or until further notice. You can also have your postal vote sent to any address (including overseas).
Once your postal vote is set up, at each relevant election you will be sent a postal poll card giving details of the forthcoming election. This will be followed by a postal vote pack which will contain:
- instructions on how to complete your postal vote
- your ballot paper
- a postal vote statement which you will need to complete so that we can verify your identity
- an envelope to put the ballot paper in (to maintain the secrecy of your vote)
- a postage-paid return envelope
If you are registered to vote by post then you can't vote at a polling station and you must vote using the postal vote that will be sent to the address specified on your application form.
Please note: postal vote packs are sent to voters approximately 10 working days prior to polling day. You will need to ensure your completed postal vote is returned in time to arrive by 10pm on the day of the election. If it arrives later than 10pm, it will not be counted. If you are not able to send it back by post in advance, you can hand your postal vote (sealed in the return envelope provided) in at the council's offices
or at any open polling station within the Dorset Council area on the day of the election. If you are in any doubt as to whether your circumstances will enable you to return your postal vote in time, for example if you are overseas, you may wish to consider voting by proxy instead.
You can cancel your postal vote but you must tell us, in writing, prior to the deadline by which you can make changes to your postal voting arrangements for the relevant election.
If you do not receive your postal vote pack, lose it or some of the contents, or make a mistake on your ballot paper, please contact Electoral Services as soon as possible. Please note, however, that replacements for postal vote packs that have not been received or which have been lost cannot be issued earlier than 4 working days prior to an election.
You can download a postal vote application form or, alternatively, contact Electoral Services for an application form. Your completed form should be sent to Electoral Services (please note: you can email us a scan or photo of your completed form).
Voting by proxy
Voting by proxy is when you appoint someone you know (and trust) to vote on your behalf. You can apply for a proxy vote if:
- you are unable to go to the polling station for one particular election, for example, if you are away on holiday
- you have a physical condition that means you cannot go to the polling station on the day of the election
- your employment means that you cannot go to the polling station on the day of the election
- your attendance on an educational course means that you cannot go to the polling station on the day of the election
- you are a British citizen living overseas
- you are a crown servant or a member of Her Majesty's Armed Forces
Your proxy must be aged 18 or over, registered to vote and eligible to vote for that particular election or referendum. A person can be a proxy for close relatives (their spouse, civil partner, parent, grandparent, brother, sister, child or grandchild) and up to two other people.
You will need to tell the person you have appointed as your proxy how you want them to vote on your behalf, for example which candidate, party or referendum option.
Your proxy will need to go to your polling station to vote on your behalf on the election day, unless they have applied for a postal proxy vote (see below). It would be helpful if they bring with them the confirmation letter or proxy poll card they will receive from the council, although this is not essential.
You can cancel your proxy vote, but you must tell us in writing. Please note that each election or referendum has a deadline by which you may make changes to your postal voting arrangements.
Download the relevant application form to vote by proxy or, alternatively, contact Electoral Services for an application form. Your completed form should be sent to Electoral Services (please note: you can email us a scan or photo of your completed form).
Voting by postal proxy
If you appoint a proxy to vote on your behalf and they cannot get to your polling station, then they can apply to vote by post for you. Your appointed proxy can download an application form to vote by postal proxy or, alternatively, they can contact Electoral Services for an application form. Their completed form (which should be submitted with or after your own proxy vote application) should be sent to Electoral Services.
Emergency proxy voting
Emergency proxy voting - Coronavirus arrangements
Voting by emergency proxy during the coronavirus pandemic
Emergency proxy votes are already available in certain circumstances, such as medical emergencies and reasons relating to your occupation, service or employment which occur or you only become aware of after the deadline for applying for an ordinary proxy vote. For these ordinary proxy vote applications, an attestation/supporting statement as to your circumstances must be made by a relevant person.
However, the Government has amended legislation to further support proxy voting for people who are affected by the pandemic close to polling day. In particular, these changes will allow those self-isolating as a result of coronavirus exposure, testing or symptoms to apply for a proxy vote in the days leading up to polling day and until 5pm on the day itself without having to find someone to attest their application, or to change who is appointed as their proxy if the proxy is affected by coronavirus. This will also be available to those who test positive for the virus on the same basis.
In certain circumstances where you have an emergency that means you can't vote in person, such as medical emergencies and reasons relating to your occupation, service or employment, you can apply for an emergency proxy. This must be something that you weren't aware of before the normal proxy vote deadline.
Find out more information and download the relevant application form to vote by emergency proxy. Your completed form should be sent to Electoral Services (please note: you can email us a scan or photo of your completed form) up to 5pm on the day of the election.