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Saturday, 17 February, 2001, 14:57 GMT
How to vote

If you meet the requirements to be a voter, the electoral returning officer will send you an official polling card about a week before the election.

This contains your name, address, electoral registration number, date of voting and the address of your polling station.

Voting in the UK is not compulsory, as it is in some countries.

In addition, you do not have to vote in person - see Postal and proxy voting.

Assuming you do wish to vote in person, you do not have to take the card with you on election day but it speeds up the process.


There are 45,000 polling station in the UK

The 45,000 polling stations in the UK are open from 0700 until 2200. When you arrive, you show your card to one of the clerks - if you do not have it then you will be looked up on the electoral register.

Not quite secret ballot

Your name will then be crossed off and the clerk will give you a ballot paper stamped with an official mark.

It also contains a serial number, which means that your vote is not in fact completely secret as it is possible, though illegal, to trace all votes to the people who cast them.

The purpose of the serial number is to stop impersonation of voters and electoral fraud.

The ballot paper lists all the candidates in alphabetical order of family name.

What's on the ballot paper?

Candidates belonging to parties registered with the Electoral Commission also have their official party description and - a new development since 1997 - a party logo.

Other candidates must describe themselves as Independent or leave the box beside their name blank.

There is an exception for the speaker of the House of Commons, who is allowed to use "speaker seeking re-election" as a description.

In addition, each polling station must now be equipped with a special device that creates a ballot paper for use by visually impaired voters.

X marks the spot

You take the paper into a secret polling booth and cast your vote by marking an X against the candidate for whom you wish to vote.

In a UK parliamentary election, you can only vote for one candidate.

Making any mark other than an X might mean your vote is not counted and people who make a mistake should ask for a fresh ballot paper.

When you have finished, you fold the paper and show the official stamp to the presiding officer before placing it in the ballot box.


Voting papers are counted

The votes from each polling station remain in their boxes until voting ends. They are then taken to a central location in each constituency and counted.

Representatives of the parties usually wait outside polling stations and ask people for their polling number.

The parties can then use this information to make sure that their known supporters have actually voted - if not, they can be reminded.

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