politics

Polling station pencils: Why don’t we use pens and should I take my own?


POLLING stations up and down the UK will be filled with people ready to mark their crosses on ballot papers for the general election. But why do we always use pencils? We explain all.

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 It's tradition for British voters to use pencil to mark ballot papers

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It’s tradition for British voters to use pencil to mark ballot papersCredit: Getty Images

Why do we use pencils to vote in UK elections?

It is a tradition in the UK for voters to mark ballot papers with lead pencils, which are supplied in polling booths. This is the same in local elections, general elections and referendums and will be the same for today’s general election. Pencils are preferred for historic and practical reasons. Ink can smudge, dry out or spill over the paper, which could invalidate a person’s vote. When the paper is folded over, pen ink might transfer into another box, making it look like the voter has voted more than once. Some people have questioned whether pencils make fraud more likely. In theory, a voter’s X could be rubbed out and replaced with a vote for another candidate. At the EU referendum, police were called to a polling station after a voter lent another his pen amid rumours of a conspiracy to erase pencil marks.

 You can take a pencil with you if you are concerned about Covid
You can take a pencil with you if you are concerned about CovidCredit: Rex

Should I take my own pencil?

This year voting will look a little different, in the same way it did last year due to Covid-19 restrictions. Social distancing will be in place and people will be required to wear masks, unless they are exempt. You do not have to take your own pencil, but it is encouraged. In a joint statement announcing COVID-secure polling station measures, the English, Scottish and Welsh governments said in March: “Voters will be encouraged to bring their own pen or pencil to mark their ballot papers, although fresh clean pencils will still be available for all.”

Can you use a pen to vote in UK elections?

Yes, you can use a pen if you wish. Pencils are supplied at the polling station – often attached to a string in each booth. But there is nothing to stop voters from bringing their own pen. The important thing is to clearly mark your voting intention on the paper.

 If you are registered to vote you should have received a polling card in the post

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If you are registered to vote you should have received a polling card in the postCredit: AFP or licensors

How do I cast my vote in the general election?

If you are registered to vote you should have received a polling card in the post that tells you where your nearest polling station is. Find out who is standing in your area by typing your postcode on the Your Vote Matters website, which will also tell you where to vote. Polls are open until 10pm tonight. Carefully check the guidance on how to fill in the ballot paper. Polling station staff can help if you are unsure, but will only advise on how to vote – not who to vote for.  





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