Local Elections 2024: Can I use a pen to vote at a polling station

Pencils are often provided at polling stations. -Credit:Stoke Sentinel
Pencils are often provided at polling stations. -Credit:Stoke Sentinel

With Plymouth's polling day upon us, and thousands across Devon and Cornwall preparing to cast their votes for local councillors today, a key question emerges - should you be using a pen or a pencil to mark your ballot?

The conventional practice in the UK is that pencils are provided at polling stations, however voters can also use a pen if they choose. The use of pencils has sparked controversy though, with some citing potential vote tampering concerns.

An example of this occurred in 2016, when a voter sought clarification through a Freedom of Information request, querying why black pens were not mandated over pencils to avoid possible fraud.

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Responding to this, a representative from the Electoral Commission said: "The use of a pen or pencil when completing the ballot paper is not specified in legislation.

"In the UK, pencils are traditionally used for the purposes of marking ballot papers and are made available inside polling stations for voters to use. Pencils have been used partly for historic reasons and partly for practical reasons."

But is it mandatory for you to use it?

Jordan adds: "The use of pencils does not in itself increase the likelihood of electoral fraud: while pencil marks can be rubbed out, similarly, pen marks can be crossed out.

"What is key is that the integrity of the process from the point that a voter marks their ballot paper to the declaration of the result is maintained."

Is it safe if we use the pencil?

He adds: "To this end, the legislation has built specific safeguards into the process, such as the requirement for seals to be attached to ballot boxes at the close of polls.

"By law, candidates and agents are also entitled to be present at that stage and to attach their own seals if they wish. At the start of the count, they can then observe those same seals being broken."