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Table of voting rights

All democratic countries have rules about who has the right to vote, known as the franchise, in their elections. This is usually based on nationality, age and residence.

In recent years the rules on who can vote in which election in the UK have diverged depending which bit of the UK you live in.

UK Parliamentary elections

Across the whole of the UK, to vote in a UK Parliamentary election a person must be must:

  • be registered to vote in the constituency;
  • be of voting age – 18 years old on polling day;
  • be either a British, qualifying Commonwealth citizen or a citizen of the Republic of Ireland; and
  • Not be subject to any legal incapacity to vote – Peers in the House of Lords, prisoners serving a prison sentence or having been convicted of committing certain electoral crimes.

Local elections in England and Northern Ireland

For local elections in England and Northern Ireland the rules are the same as they are for UK Parliamentary elections with two main exceptions. Peers in the House of Lords and EU citizens resident in the UK may also vote in local elections as long as they meet the age and residency requirements.

Local and devolved elections in Scotland and Wales

In Scotland and Wales, you must be resident to be registered to vote in the area, but there are now different rules on nationality and age, and the ban on some prisoners voting has been removed.

In Scotland, the main differences for local and Scottish Parliament elections are:

  • Registered 16- and 17-year-olds can vote;
  • All legally resident foreign nationals can also register to vote (not just EU nationals);
  • Convicted prisoners who are detained and serving a sentence of 12 months or less may now register to vote in local and Scottish Parliamentary elections.

In Wales the franchise has been changed for Senedd Cymru and local elections: 

  • Registered 16- and 17-year-olds can vote;
  • All legally resident foreign nationals can also register to vote (not just EU nationals).

These changes do not cover police and crime commissioner elections in Wales as these elections are a reserved matter for the UK Parliament. Voting age will remain at 18 for PCC elections in Wales and only registered British and Irish citizens, and qualifying Commonwealth and EU citizens will be able to vote.

All convicted prisoners serving a prison term are still prohibited from voting in Senedd Cymru and Welsh local elections.

Commonwealth and Irish Citizens

The right of some non-British residents, namely Commonwealth and Irish citizens, to vote in UK elections is a result of historic ties with the UK.

Citizens of the Republic of Ireland and qualifying Commonwealth citizens who are resident in the UK are eligible to register for, and vote in, all elections in the UK.

A qualifying Commonwealth citizen is someone who is resident in the UK and who has leave to remain in the UK or does not require leave to remain. Electoral registration officers can check the immigration status of applicants from a Commonwealth nation.

Changes to EU nationals’ voting rights

EU nationals legally resident in the UK may currently register to vote in all elections that use the local government franchise. This entitlement stemmed from the UK’s membership of the EU.

In June 2021, the Government announced it was proposing to amend the legislation covering EU voting rights. It said after the UK’s exit from the EU “there should not be a continued, automatic right to vote and stand in local elections solely by virtue of being an EU citizen”.

The Elections Act 2022 included provisions to change the voting rights of EU citizens in local elections in England and Northern Ireland, and in police and crime commissioner elections in Wales. These changes are expected to take place after local elections in England in 2024. The eligibility of EU nationals to register to vote in these elections will depend on when they became resident in the UK and which EU country they are from. The Government estimates that around 160,000 EU nationals will lose their right to vote in local elections in England and Northern Ireland.

The changes in voting rights for EU nationals will not affect voters from Cyprus, Malta and Ireland. Resident citizens of Malta and Cyprus will retain their voting rights as qualifying Commonwealth citizens. Those from Ireland will retain voting rights from the historic ties with the UK that predate EU membership.

They will also not alter the voting rights of foreign nationals, including EU nationals, in devolved and local elections in Scotland and Wales.

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