Rumors Claim You Must Use Pencils — Not Pens — on UK Ballots. Here's the Truth

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Preparing to go to the polls on July 4, 2024, for the United Kingdom's first national election in five years, some Brits are seemingly confused about whether they should use pencils or pens to mark ballots. A number of them claimed polling stations only provide pencils and encouraged followers to bring their own pens for voting to supposedly "make sure there is no tampering."

For instance, on June 19, an X user questioned why election officials equipped polling booths with pencils, not pens (archived), and received responses such as, "so they can change your vote," and "always take a pen." That post had amassed more than 288,000 views at the time of this writing.

Elsewhere on X, another user claimed "you must vote with pencil" in order for your ballot to be counted. Another X user wrote: "Don't write in pen."

Facebook users also questioned the rules on writing utensils. "Just went to my polling station to vote and all the votes are being done in PENCIL [...]," one person claimed on May 2, the day of the U.K.'s local elections.

It is true that election officials provide pencils, not pens, at polling stations. However, the claim that that practice was part of a coordinated scheme to change people's ballots was nothing more than an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory. And assertions that one particular tool — a pen or pencil — makes ballots illegitimate are false. Voters can use either.

On July 4, when people in the U.K. enter polling booths, there will be pencils waiting for them, according to the Electoral Commission, an independent agency that oversees elections and regulates political finance. "[But] you can use your own pen or pencil if you prefer," the commission wrote on its website.

The Electoral Commission's "UK Parliamentary general election media guide" states:

There is nothing in law which states whether a pen or a pencil should be used to mark a ballot paper. Pencils have been used to mark ballot papers for practical reasons: for example, with ink pens there is a chance the ink may dry out or spill. Also, ink may cause the mark which the voter has made to transfer when the ballot paper is folded, which could lead to the ballot paper being rejected. Should a voter wish to, they are able to use a pen to mark their ballot paper.

Over the years, numerous British news outlets have published articles sharing election officials' rationale for equipping booths with pencils, not pens. For example, on May 4, 2023, Bristol Live cited the Electoral Commission's media handbook for the 2017 election — which also said, "with ink pens there is always a risk that they may dry out or spill" and "ink may cause some transfer" of voters' markings.

LBC Radio, The Mirror and The Manchester Evening News reported similar quotes by the commission in December 2019, May 2022 and May 2024, respectively.


'Equipment and materials to be provided for the polling station'. The Electoral Commission Accessed 20 June 2024.

Holland, Paige, and Courtney Pochin. 'Voters Told to Use Pencils at Polling Booths When Voting This Week'. The Mirror, 5 May 2022,

'Home page'. The Electoral Commission Accessed 20 June 2024.

'How to Vote'. The Electoral Commission Accessed 20 June 2024.

Thorp, Liam, and Andrew McQuarrie. 'Why Pencils Are Used at Polling Stations and Not Pens'. Bristol Live, 4 May 2023,

'UK Parliamentary general election media guide'. The Electoral Commission Accessed 25 June 2024.

Voting in Person. The Electoral Commission Accessed 20 June 2024.

'Why Do We Vote Using Pencils in General Elections?' LBC, Accessed 20 June 2024.

Why You Vote with a Pencil in the Local Elections 2024 - Manchester Evening News. Accessed 20 June 2024.