Why we use pencil to vote in the general election 2024

-Credit: (Image: Haywards Heath)
-Credit: (Image: Haywards Heath)

Millions of people will take to the polls to cast their votes in the general election 2024 on Thursday.

Across the UK, 650 seats are up for grabs in the first nationwide election since 2019, and 27 of those are in Greater Manchester. Rishi Sunak will be hoping to keep his Conservative Party in power, therefore extending their 14 years in Downing Street.

But Sir Keir Starmer’s is aiming to become Labour’s first Prime Minister since Gordon Brown in 2010. Voters will be heading to polling stations between 7am and 10pm to cast their votes.

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Before filling in your ballot paper you will likely be handed a pencil to do so - but what's the reason behind providing pencils at polling stations instead of pens?

The debate over using pencils arose during the 2017 general election campaign when there was a flurry of social media posts suggesting that pencil marks could be erased, sparking fears of potential vote tampering.

Pencils, often tethered with string inside the voting booth, have been a staple in polling stations for local, general, and referendum voting. However, it is perfectly acceptable for a voter to bring their own pen to mark their ballot paper.

The Electoral Commission addressed the matter after receiving an inquiry from a concerned voter. Kenneth Priestly contacted the commission asking: "It has come to my attention that pencils have been used in poling stations, the mark is erasable. Given this could give arise to fraud why don't you use and supply black pens."

The response clarified that while legislation doesn't specify whether a pen or pencil should be used to complete the ballot paper, "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".

It was argued that using pencils does not inherently increase the risk of electoral fraud, with the point being made that: "While pencil marks can be rubbed out, similarly, pen marks can be crossed out."

There are practical reasons why pencils are provided, including their longevity compared to pens, cost-effectiveness, and the reduced likelihood of causing smudges that could spoil a ballot paper.

The commission emphasised that the integrity of the election process is upheld from the moment a voter marks their ballot paper to the declaration of the result.

Legislation includes safeguards such as the requirement for seals to be attached to the black ballot boxes at the close of polls.