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Wednesday, 3 October 2023

Election observers

Allowing people to observe elections is an important way of ensuring that arrangements in the UK meet internationally accepted standards. By registering as an impartial observer, you can attend elections and ask questions, as long as you don't obstruct the process.

Becoming an accredited observer

Organisations and individuals over the age of 16 can apply to the Electoral Commission for accreditation. The Electoral Commission accredits observers and maintains a register of them, which is updated regularly. Once you are accredited, you can attend:

  • the issue or receipt of postal ballot papers
  • the taking of the poll
  • the counting of votes

The registers of accredited observers (individuals and organisations) are available from the Electoral Commission below (in Microsoft Excel format - a free Excel Viewer is available from Microsoft). Organisations must nominate members to act as observers.

The accreditation scheme covers all observers at UK elections - except for Scottish local government elections, as these are a devolved matter. Electoral observation in Northern Ireland came into force on 1 July 2008.

How to apply

Application forms are available below (for individuals and organisations). You can also get an application pack from any Electoral Commission office - a link to a full list of offices is also below.

The Electoral Commission recommends that all applicants read the booklet 'Observers at United Kingdom elections' (available below), as it includes guidance on the application process and provides a code of conduct. The declaration that you must sign states that you have read and understood this code and that you agree to abide by it.

The Commission may refuse an application for accreditation if the applicant:

  • doesn't meet the requirements of the application process, as set out in the code of conduct
  • has been reported or found guilty of a corrupt or illegal electoral practice anywhere in the UK in the five years before the date of application
  • is a person whose status in the UK as a previously accredited observer (or nominated individual of an accredited organisation) was revoked by the Commission

You should allow 10 days for the processing of your application. It is also recommended that you don't wait until an election is called before you apply, as accreditation doesn't come into effect until three days after the issue of your observer ID card and your inclusion in the register of observers.

Once you are an accredited observer

As an accredited observer, you will be issued with an observer ID card and be included in the Electoral Commission's register. You will then be able to attend specified election or referendum proceedings.

Observers can tell election officials about any irregularities, fraud or significant problems, unless this would contravene the secrecy requirements. You can ask questions to election officials, political party representatives and other observers inside polling stations, as long as you don't obstruct the election process. You can also ask and answer questions of voters, but you may not ask who or what they voted for.

Observers must maintain political impartiality at all times - including their leisure time. This means you must not express any preference in relation to national authorities, political parties, candidates or referendum issues, or on any controversial issues in the election process. You must also not do anything which could be seen to favour any political competitor, such as wearing or displaying any political symbols, colours or banners.

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