At the end of the day of a general election, ballot papers from constituencies are delivered to count centres. Election officials sort them by chosen candidate and reject them if they are spoiled or unclear, then declare the winner for each constituency.

Because each count is done independently, there can be inconsistencies in the way each area reports its voting data. The House of Commons Library will collect and verify a comprehensive set of election data and publish it in a standard form on our election results website.

What happens at the polling station?

At 10pm on 4 July, voting in the 2024 general election will be over. Polling stations will close, and ballot boxes will be sealed.

Sealed ballot boxes will be transported to where the votes will be counted. Those venues, often town halls or sports centres, will be used to count the ballots and declare the election result. Count venues may be used for one or more constituencies in a locality.

What happens at the count?

At each count centre there is a ’returning officer’ (or acting returning officer) whose role is to ensure the election is administered as required by law. As well as those counting the ballots, candidates, their agents and observers will be present at the count along with journalists and the media.

When the boxes get to the counting centre they are unsealed, and the ballot papers are first counted to check that the number delivered matches the number sent from the polling station. This is known as verification.

Ballot papers from a ballot box are mixed with those from at least one other, including postal votes, to help preserve the secrecy of the vote. Votes are then sorted by candidate. Ballots for each candidate are placed in bundles and their number checked by more than one counting assistant. Ballots should be kept face up at all times. This prevents anyone seeing the ballot paper number and ensures the count is transparent for agents and observers.

Rejected votes are excluded and the ballots are then counted.

When all the ballots have been counted and any rejected votes have been added together and checked against the total number of ballot papers from the first stage of the count, the returning officer shares the provisional result with candidates and their agents.

When are ballots rejected?

Ballots will be rejected if:

  • Someone votes for more than one person
  • A voter identifies themselves on their ballot paper
  • It is not clear who has been voted for
  • A ballot does not have the official mark to show it is a genuine ballot

If it is clear who the voter intended to vote for but they used a tick or something other than an ‘X’ or failed to mark their choice in the appropriate box, their vote may still be counted. The returning officer may adjudicate on such ballots.

When can there be recounts?

A candidate can ask for a recount if a result is close, or a candidate is close to losing their deposit. A candidate loses their deposit if they poll 5% of the vote or less. The returning officer decides whether or not to hold a recount.

Who declares the result?

The returning officer makes a public declaration of the candidate with the most votes for their constituency. Many of these statements are shown on TV election programmes. Returning officers are required to give public notice of the result including details of the name of the winning candidate, the votes for each candidate and the number of rejected ballots. This statement can also include the percentage turnout and the number of electors, but not all do so.

The returning officer must give the total number of votes for each candidate for the whole constituency and no breakdowns of results by smaller areas, such as wards, are available.

Each returning officer is responsible for results in their area. These are usually reported on the relevant local authority website(s). But the exact form varies. Where the number of the votes for each candidate is reported online, there can be differences in whether on-the-day electorate and invalid votes are detailed. For example, compare the webpage reporting the parliamentary election results for Battersea and the results for Kingswood in 2019.

Furthermore, when a percentage turnout figure is included, it is not always clear how it has been calculated and it may be different from one area to another. One might include invalid votes, for example, and another may use valid votes only; percentage turnout might be to the nearest whole number or to two decimal places.

Who is responsible for reporting national vote totals?

There is no official body on election night that keeps a tally of the votes in each area. Some months after election day the Electoral Commission publishes a report on the election and provides data on the results and turnout by constituency and in aggregate.

Over the course of election night, the BBC, the Press Association, and other media monitor the results as they are declared and produce their own aggregate figures. While these are robust in terms of the declared winners, they can be less reliable for other data. For example, accurate constituency electorates (the number of people registered to vote), which are used in the calculation of turnout, are not always available until after election day.

Sometimes the media figures include errors in transcription of the number of votes recorded for individual candidates, particularly those from smaller parties. And sometimes the results online are different from those announced, if returning officers have mis-read and later corrected figures.

What is the Library doing to collect election data?

In 2024, as in previous general elections, the House of Commons Library will produce a full set of verified data for each constituency, which can be built up into totals for regions and nations.

This will include the number of votes for each candidate, the number of invalid votes and the number of electors on election day for each constituency.

It takes a few days to obtain this data and cross-check it with each local returning officer, and we aim to make it publicly available by the end of the week following the 2024 general election.

A summary of successful candidates and defeated former MPs is included in our research briefing, General election 2024 results.

Results and elections analysis for 2019 can be found in our research briefing, General Election 2019: full results and analysis.

Election results data for general elections since 2010 is available on the Library’s UK Parliament election results website.

About the author: Richard Cracknell is an elections specialist in the Social and General Statistics section at the House of Commons Library.

Photo By: (© By richjem –

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