Published:

Bob Posner is the Chief Executive of the Electoral Commission

As we approach the polls taking place across the UK on May 5th, people will have a number of personal choices to make, for instance, whether to vote, to do so by post, or in person at a polling station, and who to vote for.

But some aspects of voting are not subject to individual preference: they are determined by the law.

The secrecy of the ballot is one of those. This means that every voter has the legal right to vote in private. This law is in place to ensure that no one is pressured into casting a vote in a particular way, or to have their ballot interfered with. Enshrined now in the Representation of the People Act 1983, it is an important element of our democracy.

Concerns have been raised on this site, by Cllr Peter Golds of Tower Hamlets Council, about family members entering into the same polling booth, sometimes termed “family voting”. Some reports have suggested there is a lack of clarity about this issue. In fact, it could not be clearer: your vote is yours alone.

Voters have the clear right to cast their ballot in private. Attempting to influence how another person votes, or stealing someone else’s vote, is breaking the law.

The Electoral Commission provides guidance to electoral administrators and polling station staff, which makes it clear that voters should be supported to vote in secret and free from influence.

People voting in polling stations are not permitted to be accompanied by another person, other than in cases of specific need, such as for voters with a disability or sight loss. Children are also allowed into the booth with their parents, but should not be allowed to mark the ballot paper.

Anyone with any concern about voter interference or fraud at a polling station should raise it with staff immediately.

While the UK has very low levels of proven electoral fraud, public opinion research confirms it is an issue that concerns voters. Voter fraud risks undermining the strong tradition of free and fair elections in this country.

In the run-up to this year’s elections, the Commission is running a public awareness campaign in partnership with Crimestoppers, which highlights what constitutes electoral fraud and aims to empower people to protect their vote and encourages people to report concerns.

Whilst it is for the police to investigate allegations of electoral fraud, the Commission works closely in support of the police, prosecuting authorities and local authorities to prevent, detect, and take action.

Many readers will be aware that Tower Hamlets is an area that has heightened interest and concern around fraud in recent years. We are in regular contact with the local authority electoral services team, and polling stations staff are being briefed on the need for vigilance, in line with our guidance. Extra signage and staffing measures will also be in place at the polls to make clear that voters must enter polling booths alone. These are just some of the practical and tangible steps being taken to safeguard the integrity of the May elections.

Thanks to the enshrined legal rights of voters, and the efforts of the wider electoral community to preserve the security of polls, the UK has a long tradition of maintaining a trustworthy electoral system, where abuses are the exception.

So, on 5 May voters should feel confident in the integrity of the system and remember that their vote is theirs alone.

To vote in the elections on 5 May 2022, eligible voters in England, Northern Ireland and Wales must be registered by midnight on 14 April, and by midnight on 18 April in Scotland. Register to vote here.