Changes to postal vote handling and absent vote secrecy – what you and your residents need to know

The rules on handling postal votes and the secrecy of absent voting is changing. Find out all you need to know here.

New provisions from the Elections Act 2022 relating to handling absent votes and the secrecy of absent votes are due to take effect in time for the May 2024 local elections. The provisions restrict who can handle postal votes, how many postal votes can be handed in at polling stations and other venues and set out a process for handing in postal votes.

Who can’t handle postal votes?

Political campaigners will be banned from handling postal votes, except where the postal vote is their own or that of a close family member or someone they provide care for. Where political campaigners are handing in postal votes they will need to comply with the new limits set out in the next section. Postal workers or others who handle postal votes as part of their usual duties are also exempt.

The definition of a political campaigner is set out in Part 1, Section 4(7). Political campaigners contravening this rule are committing an offence. If found guilty of this offence, a person could face a fine and/or imprisonment for up to two years.

What are the new limits for handing in postal votes?

People handing in postal votes will now be limited to handing in no more than five postal votes for other electors, plus their own postal vote per election.

A  postal vote return form, which includes some personal information (name and address) will need to be completed this form also requires the completion of a declaration.

What happens if someone doesn’t follow the rules?

Postal votes may be rejected if people don’t follow the rules when handing in postal votes. This means they will not be counted in the election, but electors whose postal votes are rejected will be informed in writing that their vote has been rejected and why following the election.

The postal votes will be rejected if:

  • the postal vote return form was not fully completed (incomplete)
  • the number of postal votes handed in exceeded or was expected to exceed the permitted number
  • the postal vote was handed in by a political campaigner not permitted to handle the postal votes
  • the postal vote was left behind.

These rules apply to all postal votes not posted through Royal Mail. For example, postal votes delivered in a council building using internal mail or put into a council post box.

What should postal voters do then?

The best advice is to post postal votes through Royal Mail as soon as possible. If a person must hand in a postal vote in person, they should make sure to hand it in somewhere where a postal vote handing-in form is available such as at a polling station on polling day or into any council building specified as accepting postal votes. 

What’s changing about secrecy requirements?

Voters at polling stations are protected by secrecy requirements set out in Section 66 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. This states that no member of electoral staff or a person supporting a voter may communicate information about the candidate the voter voted for. It is an offence to try to find out how someone has voted in a polling station and to photograph ballot papers in polling stations. The Elections Act 2022 extended these requirements to apply to postal and proxy votes as well as votes cast in polling stations.

What happens if someone breaches these new rules?

Anyone found guilty of breaching these secrecy requirements could face a fine or imprisonment for up to six months.