How to Vote FAQ

MLAs Elected
108 of 108
NI Assembly Elections 2011 Results

Registering to vote

Who can vote?

You can register to vote if you are:

  • 16 years old or over and
  • a British citizen
  • an Irish, EU or qualifying Commonwealth citizens. Qualifying Commonwealth citizens are those who have leave to enter or remain in the UK, or do not require such leave

If you are 16 or 17, you can only register if you will be 18 within the lifetime of the electoral register. You cannot vote until you are 18.

Am I already registered to vote in the UK?

The electoral register is held by your local electoral registration office - they can tell you if you are already registered.

I just moved house, do I need to register again?

Yes. You need to make sure the electoral register is updated when you move, even if you are still within the same local authority area.

How do I register to vote?

You can obtain and complete a registration form online which you need to print off, sign, and send back to your local electoral registration office.

I am in the Armed Forces, how do I register to vote?

Members of the Armed Forces and their husbands, wives and civil partners have the right to be registered at an address within Northern Ireland - even though they are serving elsewhere within Northern Ireland, the UK or abroad. Full time members of the Home Battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment are excluded.

You need to fill in a Service voter declaration and return it to your area electoral office. To get a declaration form, contact the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland.

After your application has been approved, you must renew your declaration every three years. The Electoral Office for Northern Ireland will send you a renewal application when your previous declaration is about to expire.

When can I register to vote?

You can register at any time throughout the year as the register is updated every month but, to take part in voting on May 5, you must register by April 14.

In Northern Ireland there is no longer an annual canvass - once you are registered, you just need to update your registration if your details change or if you move home.

You do not have to wait until you are 18 to register.

What is the electoral register?

The electoral register is a list of the names and addresses of everyone who is registered to vote. There are two versions of the electoral register - the full register and the edited register.

The full register lists the name and address of everyone who is registered to vote and is updated every month. A copy is held at your local council Electoral Office. Anyone can look at it and make notes, but copies can only be supplied for certain purposes. The main use of the full register is to show who can vote in elections and referendums. Credit reference agencies can use it, but only to check your name and address if you are applying for credit. It can also be used for law enforcement purposes.

The edited register is available for general sale and can be used for any purpose. The edited register is kept separate from the full register, and can be bought by any person, company or organisation and can be used for commercial activities such as marketing.

What if I do not want my details on the electoral register?

Normally you do not have a choice about your details being on the full electoral register, but you can choose not to be on the edited register by ticking the appropriate box on the annual canvass or rolling registration form.

However if you are concerned about the register affecting your personal security, you can apply to be registered anonymously - although good reason would have to be provided for this. Applicants would need documentary evidence of a Court Order or attestation from certain persons to support their application.

If you are registered anonymously, instead of your name and address appearing on the electoral register a code will be added to the end of the section of the register for your polling district. Instead of including you on the annual canvass form, the Electoral Registration Officer will contact you separately and in such a way as to not reveal that you are registered anonymously. You should receive polling cards as usual.

Why should I register to vote?

  • if you don't register, you cannot vote - registering does not mean you have to vote, it just means you can if you want to
  • it gives you a say on important issues that affect you - from local issues likes roads to wider issues like education and climate change
  • it gives you a say on who represents you
  • it means you do not risk missing out if a snap election is called
  • it is part of your democratic rights

Casting your vote

How do I vote?

  • at a polling station on polling day
  • by post
  • by proxy (someone voting on your behalf)

How do I know where to vote in person?

If you are on the electoral register, you will receive a poll card before the election telling you where and when to vote - the polling station is often a school or local hall near where you live.

What identification do I need to vote in person?

You will need a valid form of photo ID:

  • a UK or Irish passport
  • a photographic UK, Irish or EEA driving licence
  • a Translink Senior SmartPass,or 60+ Smartpass or War Disabled Smartpass or Blind Persons Smartpass
  • an electoral identity card

Your photographic identification does not need to be current so even if it out of date you can still use it to vote.

You do not need your poll card to vote.

How do I mark my ballot card?

Always read the instructions for filling in the ballot paper carefully, even if you have voted before.

The ballot paper lists the name of each candidate along with their party name, party logo and their address.

Rank the candidates in order of preference. Put a 1 next to your first choice candidate, a 2 next to your second choice, a 3 next to your third choice, and so on. You can rank as few or as many candidates as you like.

If you make a mistake then you can ask the polling staff to give you another ballot paper.

You may also be voting in other elections on the same day.

Who can vote by post or by proxy?

In Northern Ireland you must have a reason to vote by post or by proxy, which may be:

  • you are away from home due to work, study or a holiday during an election
  • you have moved home and are still registered at your old address
  • you have an illness or disability that prevents you from going to the polling station

How do I use my postal vote?

To obtain a postal vote, you need to fill in an application form - which is available from your local area electoral office or online at the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland's website. If your application is accepted, a ballot paper will be sent to you approximately 10 days before the date of an election.

To use your postal vote in the May 5 election, you must apply by 5pm on April 11.

Once you have got your ballot paper, mark your vote in secret and make sure you send it back so that it arrives by close of poll - which is 10pm on election day. If it arrives later than this your vote will not be counted.

You must also complete and sign a postal voting statement, sending it back with your ballot paper.

You should not allow anyone to see your vote or vote for you. If you cannot post your ballot paper personally, you should give it to someone you trust or ring your local area electoral office to ask if they can collect it from you. You should not hand your postal vote to an election candidate or party worker if possible.

What is voting by proxy?

Voting by proxy means that you appoint someone you trust to go to a polling station and cast a vote on your behalf. It can be particularly useful if you are overseas in a country too far away to send back a postal vote in time for the election - for example, if you are in the Armed Forces and deployed overseas.

How do I vote by proxy?

To obtain a proxy vote, you need to fill in an application form - which is available from your local area electoral office or online at the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland's website.

The person you choose to vote on your behalf must agree to do this and they must not have agreed to act as a proxy for more than two people unless they are related to them. A poll card will be sent to your proxy telling them which polling station to go to.

What provisions are made for disabled voters?

The Electoral Office has to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act and other laws to make polling stations accessible for people with disabilities. You can take a companion with you to assist you or ask the presiding officer at the polling station for help.

Tactile voting templates and large print versions of ballot papers are available at all polling stations.

Can students vote at home and at uni?

Students may be able to register at home and at their term-time address - and therefore cast their vote in either area, not both.

While you cannot vote twice in a General Election, you can vote in local government elections at home and at your term-time address - as long as they are not in the same local government area.

Stormont & Assembly Elections

The voting system

Single Transferable Vote.

Who am I voting for?

Six Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) to represent your constituency in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Who is elected?

To be elected a candidate must reach a set amount of votes known as the quota.

The votes are counted in stages. In the first round only first preferences are counted. Anyone who reaches the quota is elected. Any votes received over the quota are not needed by the elected candidate and so are transferred to the second preference. If not enough candidates have then reached the quota, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and all of their votes are passed to the next preference on the ballot papers.

The process is repeated until six candidates have been elected.