Northern Ireland

Why do polling stations use a pencil? 2024 Westminster Election stationery explained

Am I allowed to use a pen instead?

Ballot papers are sorted and verified (Peter Byrne/PA)
Most voters will vote using pencils, which are provided at polling booths. (Peter Byrne/PA)

When we head to the polls on Thursday July 4 to vote in the Westminster election, voting booths will provide pencils for us to vote with.

But why do they do this? Is it because most polling stations are housed in primary schools and they borrow some from the classrooms?

Why do we vote in pencil?

Pencil has traditionally been used at elections as they are cheaper than pens, won’t run out of ink and are less likely to tear the ballot.

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They are also less likely to smudge when folded over and are therefore less likely to make a person’s vote invalid.

If the ink were to cross over to another box on the ballot paper when folded, it may make it unclear which candidate a person has voted for.

Can I vote using a pen?

Even though pencils are provided at polling booths, there is no law which states that a person must vote in pencil.

You are free to bring a pen or your own pencil with you to the polling station to vote with – just make sure your vote is clear on the ballot paper.

What if I make a mistake on the ballot?

If you make a mistake on your ballot, you can ask a staff member at the polling station to provide you with a new ballot paper.

Does voting in pencil mean my vote will be changed?

In the past, some conspiracy theories have circled that voting in pencil makes it easier for votes to be changed.

However, the Electoral Commission has argued that voting in pencil does not increase the likelihood of voter fraud, as pencil marks can be erased just as easily as a pen mark being crossed out. They also state that the UK has low levels of proven electoral fraud.

Safeguards are in place to prevent any votes being changed, including sealed ballot boxes.