How to vote at the 2024 general election

In this piece, we explain how to vote on polling day. We also explain how to register to vote and apply for a postal vote at future UK elections.

A sign which says 'polling station' on the day of an election
The general election is taking place on 4 July
(Image credit: Getty Images)

There's now only a short time to go until the 4 July general election.

All of the major parties have set out their manifestos. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has unveiled a Conservative manifesto that targets older voters, while Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has gone for a very low-key set of pledges in the Labour manifesto. Meanwhile, the SNP, Lib Dems, Green Party and Reform UK have all come up with more radical proposals.

Given the size of the top two parties, it seems almost certain that there will be a Sunak or Starmer-led government after 4 July. According to the polls, Starmer is the more likely of the two to get into 10 Downing Street.

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But at a constituency level, many of the contests could be very tight indeed. So, it is important that you get the opportunity to have your say. Here's how to vote.

How do I apply for a postal vote?

Please note: the deadline for postal vote applications has now passed. But you still have time to appoint a proxy (more below).

One of the criticisms of calling an election for July is that it’s a time of year when schools are out in some parts of the UK, so many people tend to be away on holiday. If you’re in this position, you can still cast your vote in the upcoming election by applying for a postal vote – but you only have hours left to apply.

Before applying for a postal vote, you have to have registered to vote. The deadline to have done so for the 2024 general election has now passed, as has the application window for postal votes.

To apply, you will need to head to the government website. You must also have your National Insurance number (or an ID document, such as a passport) to hand, as well as a black ink pen and a crease-free sheet of paper.

During the process, you will be asked for your name, date of birth and address, as well as where you want your ballot to be sent and how long you want to have a postal vote for. You can have one for a specific public poll, a set period, or for almost any election in the next three years. You should note that there are exclusions if you live in Scotland or Wales. A different application process applies in Northern Ireland, where you’ll be asked to give a reason why you can’t vote in person.

The postal vote application process will then ask you for your National Insurance number, before getting you to upload your signature. Once you’ve checked all of these things off, your application will be sent to your local electoral office. You should receive confirmation within 10 working days. The electoral office will contact you if there are any issues with your application.  You can also download a paper form if you wish to apply via post.

Your postal vote will then be sent out to you soon after the candidate list for your constituency has been confirmed. When it arrives, you should cast your vote and then send it back to the local election authority in the envelope they provide as soon as possible to ensure your ballot makes it back on time. If you wait too long, you may have to head to your local polling station, or electoral office, with your ballot before 10pm on election day – or not vote at all. If your postal vote won’t make it to the location you’ve put down in time for you to vote, you will have to create a new application.

If you've missed the postal vote deadline, you can still vote by appointing a proxy, i.e. someone who you trust, who can head to your local polling station to vote on your behalf. To do so, both you and your proxy have to be registered to vote. Proxies can vote on behalf of two other people (four if two of them live abroad).

As well as being away, you can only go down this voting route if you’re registered as an overseas voter (see more below), have a medical condition or disability, or have work or national service (e.g. military) commitments that require you to be elsewhere on the day.

The deadline for proxy vote applications in England, Scotland and Wales is six working days before the polling date (Wednesday 26 June). In Northern Ireland, the deadline has passed at it comes fourteen working days before polling day. You may be able to get an emergency proxy vote up until the election day itself if you find yourself unable to head to your polling station at short notice.

How do I vote on election day?

If you’re planning to vote in person, you should get a polling card sent to your registered address. It will tell you where your local polling station will be, and when it will be open on election day (voting hours are usually 7am until 10pm). Should a poll card not arrive, you can still vote so long as you are registered.

Before heading to the polling station on 4 July, it’s vital to remember that you now have to take a form of photo ID with you. A UK or Northern Ireland photocard driving licence (full of provisional) will suffice, or you can take your passport along with you. A full list of accepted forms of ID can be found on the government website. If you forget it, you can go back to the polling station at a later time.

When you arrive at the polling station, you will have to show this ID and give your name and address to the people working there. They will then give you your ballot paper, which you will then have to take into a polling booth to fill out. Instructions for what to do are usually on top of your ballot paper, but it usually involves putting a cross next to the candidate you wish to elect. Once you’ve folded your ballot paper and put it into the ballot box, you’re all done.

Proxy voters may have to travel to a different polling station to vote on behalf of someone (it depends on where the person who can’t be there is registered to vote). They too must take an accepted form of photo ID with them.

How to register to vote in the UK election

The deadline to register to register to vote in the general election has passed. But you can still register to take part in future UK elections, either through the government’s online portal or apply via post.

It should also be noted that you legally have to be on the electoral roll if you’re of voting age. If you don’t sign up, or fail to provide the right details, you could be fined. You can apply to be on it from the age of 16 in England and Northern Ireland (14 in Scotland and Wales).

When applying, you will need to give your name, date of birth, address and National Insurance number. The process will also ask you whether you want to be included on the open register, or kept off it.

Being on the open register means some of your personal details can be viewed by other members of the public and businesses. You can opt out of it at any time by going through the registration process again. You do not have to be on the open register to improve your credit score.

If you’re unsure about whether or not you’re registered to vote, you should contact your local electoral registration office. Once a year, or if you move house, you may get a letter asking you who’s registered to vote at your address, and whether the details they have for the people living in your home are correct. Say you get married and change your name, you will be expected to update your details by registering again.

How to register to vote if you live abroad

The deadline for people living abroad to register to vote has also passed. But if you’re still classed as a British citizen, you can apply for a postal or proxy vote for a future election.

To register, you have to use the main government registration portal and put yourself down as an overseas voter. You will then be able to vote in UK parliament elections and some forms of referenda for a three year period. You will then need to reapply.

If you’re a citizen of a Commonwealth, EU or other European country but live full-time in the UK, you can also register to vote.

Henry Sandercock
Staff Writer

Henry Sandercock has spent more than eight years as a journalist covering a wide variety of beats. Having studied for an MA in journalism at the University of Kent, he started his career in the garden of England as a reporter for local TV channel KMTV. 

Henry then worked at the BBC for three years as a radio producer - mostly on BBC Radio 2 with Jeremy Vine, but also on major BBC Radio 4 programmes like The World at One, PM and Broadcasting House. Switching to print media, he covered fresh foods for respected magazine The Grocer for two years. 

After moving to NationalWorld.com - a national news site run by the publisher of The Scotsman and Yorkshire Post - Henry began reporting on the cost of living crisis, becoming the title’s money editor in early 2023. He covered everything from the energy crisis to scams, and inflation. You will now find him writing for MoneyWeek. Away from work, Henry lives in Edinburgh with his partner and their whippet Whisper.

With contributions from