What are the different voting systems?

On this page you can find out about the different voting systems at UK elections.

The way you cast your vote can depend on the type of election. Different voting systems are used at different elections across the UK.

You can find out more about all of the different voting systems below.


Elections across the UK

UK Parliamentary general elections

The voting system

First-past-the-post.

How often?

Every five years.

Who am I voting for?

The UK is divided into 650 constituencies, each with one Member of Parliament (MP). You vote for one MP to sit in the UK Parliament in Westminster and represent your constituency. 

Find out more information about who represents you at the UK Parliament

How do I vote?

Always read the instructions for filling in the ballot paper carefully, even if you have voted before.

The ballot paper lists the name and address of each candidate. If they are standing for a party, their party name and logo will be included, along with a short description. If they are not standing for a party it will say "independent".

Simply put a cross (X) next to the one candidate that you wish to vote for.

If you make a mistake you can ask the polling staff to give you another ballot paper.

You may also be voting in other elections or referendums on the same day.

Who is elected?

The candidate with the most votes is elected; they do not need to get more than half of the votes cast. If there is a tie then a candidate is selected by the drawing of lots (i.e. a method of selection by chance such as tossing a coin or picking a name out of a hat).

European Parliament elections in England, Scotland and Wales

The voting system

Proportional representation – closed list.

How often?

Every five years.

Who am I voting for?

You are voting for Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to represent you in Brussels. 

The UK is divided into regions, one for each of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and nine covering England. Each region is allocated a number of MEPs according to its population.

Between three and 10 MEPs represent each region. 

Find out more information about who represents you at the European Parliament

How do I vote?

Always read the instructions for filling in the ballot paper carefully, even if you have voted before.

The ballot paper lists political parties and independent candidates. Under each party name is a list of candidates who wish to represent that party.

Simply put a cross (X) next to the party or independent candidate that you wish to vote for.

If you make a mistake then you can ask the polling staff to give you another ballot paper.

You may also be voting in other elections or referendums on the same day.

Who is elected?

In a given region the allocated seats are awarded using a quota system. The quota is the total number of votes received by a party or independent candidate divided by the number of seats already gained in that region +1.

So, for a party with no seats the number of votes received is divided by one, and so stays the same. If the party already has one seat then its number of votes is divided by two, if it has two seats it is divided by three, and so on.

This means that the more seats you have already won, the harder it is to gain extra seats, so the overall allocation of seats is more proportional to the number of votes received.

The first seat that a party wins goes to the first person on its list, the second seat to the second person, and so on, until the party has either not won any more seats or has run out of names on its list. An independent candidate is treated as though he or she were a party with only one name on its list.

European Parliament elections in Northern Ireland

The voting system

Single Transferable Vote.

How often?

Every five years.

Who am I voting for?

Three Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to represent Northern Ireland.

Find out more information about who represents you at the European Parliament

What photographic ID will I need?

Acceptable forms of photo ID are:

  • A UK, Irish or EU passport 
  • NI or GB photographic driving licence 
  • Translink Senior SmartPass, Translink 60+ SmartPass, Translink Blind Person's SmartPass, Translink War Disabled SmartPass 
  • Electoral identity card

How do I vote?

Always read the instructions for filling in the ballot paper carefully, even if you have voted before.

The ballot paper lists the name of each candidate along with their party name, party logo and their address.

Rank the candidates in order of preference. Put a 1 next to your first-choice candidate, a 2 next to your second-choice, a 3 next to your third-choice, and so on. You can rank as few or as many candidates as you like.

If you make a mistake then you can ask the polling staff to give you another ballot paper.

You may also be voting in other elections or referendums on the same day.

Who is elected?

To be elected a candidate must reach a set amount of votes known as the quota.

The votes are counted in stages. In the first stage only first preferences are counted. Anyone who reaches the quota is elected. Any votes received over the quota are not needed by the elected candidate and so are transferred to the second preference.

If not enough candidates have then reached the quota, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and all of their votes are passed to the next preference on the ballot papers. This process is repeated until three candidates have been elected.

Elections in England

Local government elections in England

The voting system

First-past-the-post.

Who am I voting for?

Between one and three councillors to represent your ward on the local council. There are 388 local councils in England and about 20,000 councillors.

For more information on your local councillors, visit your local authority website. You can find their details by entering your postcode in the 'Your local area' section at the top of this page.

How do I vote?

Always read the instructions for filling in the ballot paper carefully, even if you have voted before.

The ballot paper lists the name of each candidate along with their party name, party logo and their address.

Depending on where you live you will be able to vote for between one and three candidates. The instructions at the top of your ballot paper will tell you how many candidates you can vote for.

Simply put a cross (X) next to each candidate that you wish to vote for. You do not have to use all of your votes; the suggested number is a maximum.

If you make a mistake then you can ask the polling staff to give you another ballot paper.

You may also be voting in other elections or referendums on the same day.

Who is elected?

The number of candidates to be elected will be the same as the number of votes that you were allowed. The candidate with the most votes is elected first, then if required the candidate with the second highest number of votes is elected, then the third placed candidate.

No candidate needs to get more than half of the votes cast. If there is a tie then a candidate is selected by the drawing of lots (i.e. a method of selection by chance such as tossing a coin or picking a name out of a hat).

Directly Elected Mayors in England (including the London Mayor)

The voting system

Supplementary Vote.

Who am I voting for?

All local councils in England have a Mayor. Most are chosen by the council. However, in some areas the Mayor is directly elected by voters at the same time as they vote for their councillors.

For more information on your Mayor, visit your local authority website. You can find their details by entering your postcode in the 'Your local area' section at the top of this page.

There is also a Mayor of London with a wider range of powers than local council Mayors.

How do I vote?

Always read the instructions for filling in the ballot paper carefully, even if you have voted before.

The ballot paper lists the name of each candidate along with their party name, party logo and their address. There are two columns next to each name.

You will be asked to vote for your first-choice candidate by marking a cross (X) in the first-choice column, and vote for your second-choice candidate by marking a cross (X) in the second-choice column. As long as you mark one cross in the first-choice column, your vote can be counted.

You should not mark more than one cross in the first-choice column and you should not mark more than one cross in the second-choice column.

If you have marked a first-choice, you can choose whether or not to mark a second-choice. But if you only mark a cross in the second-choice column, your vote won't be counted.

If you mark a cross next to the same candidate in the first- and second-choice column, your ballot paper will still be accepted but you would not be marking a second-choice. If you want to mark a second-choice, you should mark a cross next to a different candidate in the second-choice column.

If you make a mistake then you can ask the polling staff to give you another ballot paper.

You may also be voting in other elections or referendums on the same day.

Who is elected?

The first preferences are counted, and if a candidate has received more than 50% of the votes cast they are elected.

If no candidate has more than 50% of the vote, all candidates apart from those in first and second place are eliminated. The votes showing a first preference for one of the eliminated candidates are checked for their second preference. Any second preference votes for the two remaining candidates are then added to their first preference votes and the candidate with the most votes wins.

Find out more about how supplementary voting works in this short animated guide, produced by Blackburn with Darwen Council

London Assembly elections

The voting system

The Additional Member System (a combination of first-past-the-post and closed list proportional representation).

How often?

Every four years. You will be asked to vote for a London Mayor at the same time.

Who am I voting for?

You have two votes; one for your local constituency member and one for the 11 London-wide Assembly members.

Find out more information about who represents you at the London Assembly

How do I vote?

Always read the instructions for filling in the ballot paper carefully, even if you have voted before.

You will be given two ballot papers.

The first is for your constituency member. The ballot paper lists the name of each candidate along with their party name, party logo and their address.

Simply put a cross (X) next to the one candidate that you wish to vote for.

The second ballot paper is a vote for a party or independent candidate attempting to gain the 11 London-wide Assembly seats. The ballot paper lists political parties and independent candidates. Under each party name is a list of candidates who wish to represent that party.

Simply put a cross (X) next to the party or independent candidate that you wish to vote for.

At the same time you will also be asked to vote on a third ballot paper for a London Mayor - for more information see the section on Directly Elected Mayors in England. 

If you make a mistake then you can ask the polling staff to give you another ballot paper.

You may also be voting in other elections or referendums on the same day.

Who is elected?

There are 14 constituencies, each represented by one Assembly member. In each constituency the candidate with the most votes is elected; they do not need to get more than half of the votes cast. If there is a tie then a candidate is selected by the drawing of lots (i.e. a method of selection by chance such as tossing a coin or picking a name out of a hat).

There are also 11 London-wide seats; these seats are awarded using a quota system. The quota is the total number of votes received by a party or independent candidate divided by the number of seats already gained +1.

So, for a party with no seats the number of votes received is divided by one, and so stays the same. If the party already has one seat then its number of votes is divided by two, if it has two seats it is divided by three, and so on.

This means that the more seats you have already won, the harder it is to gain extra seats, so the overall allocation of seats is more proportional to the number of votes received. The number of seats each party has includes any constituency seats won and any London-wide seats already awarded.

The first London-wide seat that a party wins goes to the first person on its list, the second seat to the second person, and so on, until the party has either not won any more seats or has run out of names on its list. An independent candidate is treated as though he or she were a party with only one name on its list.

Police and Crime Commissioner elections

The voting system

Police and Crime Commissioner elections with three or more candidates use the supplementary vote system.

How often?

Every four years.

Who am I voting for?

The first Police and Crime Commissioner election was in 2012, replacing your local police authority. 

The Police and Crime Commissioner is responsible for holding the Chief Constable and police force to account on the public's behalf. They oversee how crime is tackled in their area and aim to make sure the police are providing a good service.

Find out more about Police and Crime Commissioner elections in your area

How do I vote?

Always read the instructions for filling in the ballot paper carefully, even if you have voted before.

For this election you can vote for a first- and second-choice of who you want to win.

The ballot paper will list all the candidates standing in your area. Next to the list of candidates there will be two columns.

You will be asked to:

  • vote for your first-choice candidate by marking a cross (X) in the first-choice column, and vote for your second-choice candidate by marking a cross (X) in the second-choice column. As long as you mark one cross in the first-choice column, your vote can be counted.

You should not mark more than one cross in the first-choice column and you should not mark more than one cross in the second-choice column.

If you have marked a first-choice, you can choose whether or not to mark a second-choice. But if you only mark a cross in the second-choice column, your vote won't be counted.

If you mark a cross next to the same candidate in the first- and second-choice column, your ballot paper will still be accepted but you would not be marking a second-choice. If you want to mark a second-choice, you should mark a cross next to a different candidate in the second-choice column.

If you make a mistake then you can ask the polling staff to give you a replacement ballot paper.

Please note, if only two candidates stand in your area, the ballot paper will only have one column and you will be asked to mark only one cross.

You may also be voting in other elections or referendums on the same day.

Who is elected?

The first preferences are counted, and if a candidate has received more than 50% of the votes cast they are elected.

If no candidate has more than 50% of the votes, all candidates apart from those in first and second place are eliminated.

The ballot papers showing a first preference for the eliminated candidates are checked for their second preference. Any second preference votes for the two remaining candidates are then added to the candidates' first preference votes and the candidate with the most votes wins.

Find out more about how supplementary voting works in this short animated guide, produced by Blackburn with Darwen Council

Elections in Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Assembly elections

The voting system

Single Transferable Vote.

Who am I voting for?

Six Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) to represent your constituency in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Find out more information about who represents you at the Northern Ireland Assembly

What photographic ID will I need?

Acceptable forms of photo ID are:

  • A UK, Irish or EU passport 
  • NI or GB photographic driving licence 
  • Translink Senior SmartPass, Translink 60+ SmartPass, Translink Blind Person's SmartPass, Translink War Disabled SmartPass 
  • Electoral identity card

How do I vote?

Always read the instructions for filling in the ballot paper carefully, even if you have voted before.

The ballot paper lists the name of each candidate along with their party name, party logo and their address.

Rank the candidates in order of preference. Put a 1 next to your first-choice candidate, a 2 next to your second-choice, a 3 next to your third-choice, and so on. You can rank as few or as many candidates as you like.

If you make a mistake then you can ask the polling staff to give you another ballot paper.

You may also be voting in other elections or referendums on the same day.

Who is elected?

To be elected a candidate must reach a set amount of votes known as the quota.

The votes are counted in stages. In the first round only first preferences are counted. Anyone who reaches the quota is elected. Any votes received over the quota are not needed by the elected candidate and so are transferred to the second preference. If not enough candidates have then reached the quota, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and all of their votes are passed to the next preference on the ballot papers.

This process is repeated until six candidates have been elected.

Local government elections in Northern Ireland

The voting system

Single Transferable Vote

Who am I voting for?

Councillors to represent you on your local council.

For more information on your local councillors, visit your local authority website. You can find their details by entering your postcode in the 'Your local area' section at the top of this page.

How do I vote?

Always read the instructions for filling in the ballot paper carefully, even if you have voted before.

The ballot paper lists the name of each candidate along with their party name, party logo and their address.

Rank the candidates in order of preference. Put a 1 next to your first-choice candidate, a 2 next to your second-choice, a 3 next to your third-choice, and so on. You can rank as few or as many candidates as you like.

If you make a mistake then you can ask the polling staff to give you another ballot paper.

You may also be voting in other elections or referendums on the same day.

Who is elected?

To be elected a candidate must reach a set amount of votes known as the quota.

The votes are counted in stages. In the first round only first preferences are counted. Anyone who reaches the quota is elected. Any votes received over the quota are not needed by the elected candidate and so are transferred to the second preference.

If not enough candidates have then reached the quota, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and all of their votes are passed to the next preference on the ballot papers. This process is repeated until enough candidates have been elected to fill each seat in the ward.

Elections in Scotland

Local government elections in Scotland

The voting system

Single Transferable Vote.

Who am I voting for?

Three or four councillors to represent your ward on the local council.

For more information on your local councillors, visit your local authority website. You can find their details by entering your postcode in the 'Your local area' section at the top of this page.

How do I vote?

Always read the instructions for filling in the ballot paper carefully, even if you have voted before.

The ballot paper lists the name of each candidate along with their party name, party logo and their address.

Rank the candidates in order of preference. Put a 1 next to your first-choice candidate, a 2 next to your second-choice, a 3 next to your third-choice, and so on. You can rank as few or as many candidates as you like.

If you make a mistake then you can ask the polling staff to give you another ballot paper.

You may also be voting in other elections or referendums on the same day.

Who is elected?

To be elected a candidate must reach a set amount of votes known as the quota.

The votes are counted in stages. In the first stage only first preferences are counted. Anyone who reaches the quota is elected. Any votes received over the quota are not needed by the elected candidate and so are transferred to the second preference. If not enough candidates have then reached the quota, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and all of their votes are passed to the next preference on the ballot papers.

This process is repeated until three or four candidates have been elected.

Scottish Parliamentary elections

The voting system

The Additional Member System (a combination of first-past-the-post and closed list proportional representation).

How often?

Currently every four years (those elected on the 5 May 2016 will serve 5 years).

Who am I voting for?

If you live in Scotland, you are represented by eight Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs). One represents your Scottish Parliament constituency and the other seven all represent your region. 

You have two votes; one for a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) for your Scottish Parliamentary constituency and one for the seven regional MSPs for your region of Scotland.

Find out more information about who represents you in the Scottish Parliament

How do I vote?

Always read the instructions for filling in the ballot papers carefully, even if you have voted before.

You will receive two ballot papers.

On the lilac coloured ballot paper you will vote for your constituency MSP. The ballot paper lists the name of each candidate along with their party name and party logo.

Simply put a cross (X) next to the one candidate that you wish to vote for.

On the peach coloured ballot paper you vote for a party or independent candidate competing for the seven regional seats for your region of Scotland. The ballot paper lists political parties and independent candidates.

Simply put a cross (X) next to the party or independent candidate that you wish to vote for.

If you make a mistake then you can ask the polling staff to give you another ballot paper.

You may also be voting in other elections or referendums on the same day.

Who is elected?

There are 73 constituencies, each represented by one MSP. In each constituency the candidate with the most votes is elected; they do not need to get more than half of the votes cast. If there is a tie then a candidate is selected by the drawing of lots (i.e. a method of selection by chance such as tossing a coin or picking a name out of a hat).

There are also eight regions, each electing seven regional MSPs. There are 56 regional seats in total, which are awarded using a formula. The formula is the total number of regional votes received by a party or independent candidate divided by the number of seats (constituency and regional) already gained in that region +1. The party with the highest result after the formula is applied gains an additional seat. The calculation is repeated until all the additional seats have been awarded.

So, for a party with no seats the number of votes received is divided by one, and so stays the same. If the party already has one seat in that region then its number of votes is divided by two, if it has two seats in that region it is divided by three, and so on.

This means that the more seats you have already won, the harder it is to gain extra seats, so the overall allocation of seats is more proportional to the number of votes received. The number of seats each party has includes any constituency seats won in that region and regional seats already awarded.

The first regional seat that a party wins goes to the first person on its list for that region, the second seat to the second person, and so on, until the party has either not won any more seats or has run out of names on its list. An independent candidate is treated as though he or she were a party with only one name on its list.

Elections in Wales

Local government elections in Wales

The voting system

First-past-the-post.

Who am I voting for?

A councillor to represent your ward on the local council.

For more information on your local councillors, visit your local authority website. You can find their details by entering your postcode in the 'Your local area' section.

How do I vote?

Always read the instructions for filling in the ballot paper carefully, even if you have voted before.

The ballot paper lists the name of each candidate along with their party name, party logo and their address.

Simply put a cross (X) next to each candidate that you wish to vote for.

If you make a mistake then you can ask the polling staff to give you another ballot paper.

You may also be voting in other elections on the same day.

Who is elected?

The candidate with the most votes is elected; they do not need to get more than half of the votes cast. If there is a tie then a candidate is selected by the drawing of lots (i.e. a method of selection by chance such as tossing a coin or picking a name out of a hat).

National Assembly for Wales elections

The voting system

The Additional Member System (a combination of first past the post and closed list proportional representation).

Who am I voting for?

You have two votes; the first vote is for a constituency member and the second vote is for regional members. Each constituency in Wales is represented by one Assembly Member (AM) and each region is represented by four AMs.

Find out more information about who represents you at the National Assembly for Wales

How do I vote?

Always read the instructions for filling in the ballot paper carefully, even if you have voted before.

You will be given two ballot papers.

The first is for your constituency AM.

Simply put a cross (X) next to the one candidate that you wish to vote for.

The second is a vote for a party or individual candidate attempting to gain the four regional seats within your region. The ballot paper lists political parties and individual candidates.

Simply put a cross (X) next to the party or independent candidate that you wish to vote for.

If you make a mistake then you can ask the polling staff to give you another ballot paper.

You may also be voting in other elections or referendums on the same day.

Who is elected?

There are 40 constituencies, each represented by one AM. In each constituency the candidate with the most votes is elected; they do not need to get more than half of the votes cast. If there is a tie then a candidate is selected by the drawing of lots (i.e. a method of selection by chance such as tossing a coin or picking a name out of a hat).

There are also five regions, each electing four regional AMs. There are 20 regional seats in total, which are awarded using a quota system. The quota is the total number of regional votes received by a party or independent candidate divided by the number of constituency seats already gained in that region +1.

So, for a party with no constituency seats the number of votes received is divided by one. If the party has secured one constituency seat in that region then its number of votes is divided by two, if it has two seats in that region it is divided by three, and so on.

This means that the more constituency seats a political party has won, the harder it is to gain any additional seats through the regional list system, so the overall allocation of seats is more proportional to the number of votes received.

The regional seats each political party win are filled by the candidates in the order they appear on the regional ballot paper – this order is decided by the political party. An independent candidate is treated as though he or she were a party with only one name on its list.

Police and Crime Commissioner elections

The voting system

Police and Crime Commissioner elections with three or more candidates use the supplementary vote system.

How often?

Every four years.

Who am I voting for?

The first Police and Crime Commissioner election was in 2012, replacing your local police authority. 

The Police and Crime Commissioner is responsible for holding the Chief Constable and police force to account on the public's behalf. They oversee how crime is tackled in their area and aim to make sure the police are providing a good service.

Find out more about Police and Crime Commissioner elections in your area

How do I vote?

Always read the instructions for filling in the ballot paper carefully, even if you have voted before.

For this election you can vote for a first- and second-choice of who you want to win.

The ballot paper will list all the candidates standing in your area. Next to the list of candidates there will be two columns.

You will be asked to:

  • vote for your first-choice candidate by marking a cross (X) in the first-choice column, and vote for your second-choice candidate by marking a cross (X) in the second-choice column. As long as you mark one cross in the first-choice column, your vote can be counted.

You should not mark more than one cross in the first-choice column and you should not mark more than one cross in the second-choice column.

If you have marked a first-choice, you can choose whether or not to mark a second-choice. But if you only mark a cross in the second-choice column, your vote won't be counted.

If you mark a cross next to the same candidate in the first- and second-choice column, your ballot paper will still be accepted but you would not be marking a second-choice. If you want to mark a second-choice, you should mark a cross next to a different candidate in the second-choice column.

If you make a mistake then you can ask the polling staff to give you a replacement ballot paper.

Please note, if only two candidates stand in your area, the ballot paper will only have one column and you will be asked to mark only one cross.

You may also be voting in other elections or referendums on the same day.

Who is elected?

The first preferences are counted, and if a candidate has received more than 50% of the votes cast they are elected.

If no candidate has more than 50% of the votes, all candidates apart from those in first and second place are eliminated.

The ballot papers showing a first preference for the eliminated candidates are checked for their second preference. Any second preference votes for the two remaining candidates are then added to the candidates' first preference votes and the candidate with the most votes wins.

Find out more about how supplementary voting works in this short animated guide, produced by Blackburn with Darwen Council