How Not To End Up In Prison: The Dos And Don’ts Of Voting

Enjoy voting today but be sure to respect the law (Shutterstock)

Okay so that headline is dramatic, but every Election Day voters make the same mistakes that could cost them greatly, so we needed to make sure you were listening.

The last thing this article aims to do is put anyone off hot-footing it straight to their local polling station. Instead, we’re here to help clear up some of the confusion surrounding the dos and don’ts of voting. Including the illegal stuff that, yes, could genuinely land you in a jail cell.

So here goes.

I lost my polling card. Can I still vote?

You don’t need to bring your polling card to the polling station. It helps speed up the process for the staff, so bring it if you have it, but don’t fret if not. Simply tell the person at the desk your name and address and they will find you on the electoral register. If you don’t know where your polling station is, ask your local election office.

Can I bring my dog?

Your pooch may not be entitled to exercise their canine rights (a travesty, we know) but they can come with you to the polling station so long as they don’t cause any disruption. The same applies to horses for those planning on riding to the booth, but they don’t have their own hashtag just yet. Just us who can’t wait to spend hours trawling through the #DogsAtPollingStations hashtag today? 

Can my friend come in with me?

If you are both registered at the same polling station then you can go together but you must go into the booth alone. It’s not scary, promise! If you are disabled or have difficulty reading the ballot, you may bring a companion or ask the polling station staff to help.

Can I wear my I Heart Corbyn t-shirt?

Campaigning activity within a 250-metre radius of the polling station’s entrance is banned during voting so this is a risky move as, depending on how strict the people manning your station are, you could be turned away for trying to influence other voters. If you’re wearing some other kind of political garb that bears no mention of candidates or parties standing for election, you’ll be fine. In short: it’s probably not worth it. Go in your PJs instead if you have to.

I’m Muslim and I wear a veil. Can I keep my face covered while voting?

Yes, but expect to give your name and address so that staff can ensure that you aren’t illegally voting twice.

I’m hungover. In fact, I think I might still be drunk. Will they let me in?

If the staff at the polling station deem you incapable of voting, you will be asked to come back once you’ve sobered up. If in doubt, have some water and give yourself time to recover, but remember that the polls close at 10pm sharp.

Can I write things on my ballot paper?

If you do, it will count as spoiled. Save your witty political comments for another time. Do not sign your ballot either, as revealing your identity breaches the secrecy rules and will mean your vote is rejected.

I drew a willy in the box but now I regret it. Can I vote again?

If you make a mistake on your ballot paper, you can take it back to the desk and ask for another one. If you have already dropped your paper into the ballot box, then tough. 

I’m not sure I trust that pencil, someone could rub it out!

Multiple steps are taken to ensure integrity when the ballots are counted but if you want to bring your own pen to be doubly sure that your cross will not be tampered with, then that is absolutely fine.

My child wants to mark my ballot paper for me. Is this okay?

No, this is illegal. You and you alone can mark your ballot paper (unless you have applied for a proxy vote).

Can I take a photo of my ballot paper?

If you take a photo of the unique number of your ballot paper, you could be liable to pay a £5,000 fine or spend six months in prison. So maybe don’t do that.

How about a selfie?

Selfies are fine, but don’t include people in polling booths in the background. This is due to laws surrounding keeping the secrecy of the ballot. If you accidentally reveal how someone else has voted, you could incur a fine. If you want to share a photo of yourself voting, it’s safest to take it outside the polling station.

I really want a certain party to win. Can I slip other voters at my polling station a tenner to help turn my dream into reality?

Err no, that’s bribery and definitely illegal. So is ‘treating’, whereby you offer someone food, drink, entertainment etc with the intention of influencing their vote. Threatening to inflict harm or damage on someone to induce them to vote or not vote is also, obviously, DEFINITELY ILLEGAL, as is trying to stop someone from voting, even if your attempt is unsuccessful. Basically, just don’t be a douche.

Can I post about who I voted for online?

This isn’t illegal as such, but the Electoral Commission encourages against it. The Representation of the People Act 1983 (the one that finally allowed some women to vote), states that it is against the law to publish “any statement relating to the way in which voters have voted at the election where that statement is (or might reasonably be taken to be) based on information given by voters after they have voted”. This is why papers are banned from publishing exit polls or predictions based on them, including on Twitter, until after the polls close.

Enjoy your election night on the sofa, as opposed to in a prison cell, and thank us later.

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