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Local Elections take place across Devon

What you need to know about voting today.

Unless you’ve already applied for a postal vote, or a proxy vote, you’ll be making your choices by visiting your nearest polling station – which will be marked on your polling card when it’s sent out.

If you’ve voted in local elections before – or the recent general election – you may be familiar with the set-up of polling stations and the strict rules which surround them.

But if this is your first time voting, or you need a refresher, we’ve got the definitive “do’s and ‘don’t’s”, as approved by the Electoral Commission.

Can staff at the polling station wear coloured clothing?

YES – but they can’t wear anything which could influence a voter’s decision.

The commission’s handbook states the atmosphere in a polling station should be “business-like and friendly, and polling station staff should dress accordingly.”

Polling station staff don’t have to wear suits or anything else overly formal, but they cannot wear any “badges, slogans or colours” which could “bring their impartiality into question”.

Does my polling station have to be wheelchair-accessible?

YES – there are very strict guidelines about disabled or vulnerable people to make sure they can vote and feel comfortable inside the polling station.

These include making sure a wheelchair can access all parts of the site, providing a low-level booth, ensuring the ballot box is at a suitable height, and displaying notices so they can be read by people who are visually impaired.

Chairs are also provided for those who cannot stand for long periods of time (if there is a queue to vote), and all polling agents must be “positioned so that they do not interfere with the proceedings” (for instance, looking over people’s shoulders).

Can candidates stand inside the polling station when I cast my vote?

YES – but they must not “disrupt voting or attempt to canvass voters”. And of course, they can come in to cast their own votes.

The same goes for police officers, election agents or polling booth staff, as well as anyone from the Electoral Commission who may be observing.

Polling agents can also be there to make sure people are not impersonating other voters or trying to vote twice – but it is not allowed for more than one polling agent to be inside the polling station as any given time.

If you are under the age of 18, you can accompany someone into the polling station, but again you cannot disrupt or compromise the proceedings (e.g. by being noisy, running around or shouting out how people have voted).

Do I have to have my polling card with me when I vote?

NO – but you will be asked to confirm your name and address before you can be issued with a ballot paper.

The only exception is if you are voting anonymously – for instance, to protect your identity if you have been a victim of domestic abuse or harassment.

To vote anonymously, you must have notified your local authority in advance and may be required to produce legal documents to support your case.

Do I have to bring ID with me to vote?

NO – not in Devon, and not at this election.

In 11 other areas across the UK, trials are being undertaken which require people to either prove their identity in advance or show photo identification (e.g. passport or driving licence) when they arrive at the polling station.

But none of these trials are taking place in Devon. If someone asks you for ID and tries to stop you voting, report this immediately to the polling staff or a police officer if they are present.

Do I have to vote with the pencil provided?

NO – you are allowed to vote with a pen if you bring your own, provided it is in black or dark blue ink.

Pencils have been historically used at polling station, but the commission confirmed at the time of the 2016 EU referendum that there was “no legal requirement” to use pencils instead of pens.

Can I take photos inside the polling station?

YES – but be very, VERY careful.

It is illegal to “communicate or publicise” anything which could “potentially breach the secrecy of the ballot requirements”.

This includes taking a picture of your own ballot paper – whether you have filled it in or not – or anything which reveals how someone has voted or intends to vote.

If you are caught doing this, you could face a fine of up to £5,000 and possibly up to six months in prison.

Technically you can take a photo inside a polling station without this happening – for instance, a selfie with a blank wall as the background – but it’s best to play it safe and leave your snaps for until you’re outside.

Do I have to vote for any of the candidates?

NO – if none of the candidates or parties match your ideas or expectations, you can spoil your ballot.

Examples of how to do this include writing your name on the ballot paper, putting more than one cross in the box by the candidates’ names, or leaving the ballot paper blank.

When the votes are counted after the polls close, all spoiled ballots have to be verified – meaning that all the candidates for a given area must look at it and agree that it should be counted as spoiled, rather than a vote for a given person.

If, therefore, you are really unhappy, you can leave your candidates a message on your ballot paper, which they by law will have to read.

Please note: spoiling your ballot should be a last resort. It’s far better than not voting at all, but take time to read the election literature from all the candidates in your area before you do this.

When are polling stations open?

All polling stations will be open from 7am to 10pm, regardless of your district, ward or parish.

Busy periods will vary from place to place, but if the most recent general elections are anything to go by, it’s not a good idea to leave it until the last minute to vote.

If you don’t know where your nearest polling station is, visit www.wheredoivote.co.uk or contact your district council.

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