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Election glossary - P to Z

  • Published: Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Elections bring their own set of jargon and specialist words. Use the Directgov election glossary to translate some of these terms.

Party election broadcasts

Party election broadcasts are broadcasts made by the political parties and transmitted on TV or radio. By agreement with the broadcasters, each party is allowed a certain number according to the number of candidates it has standing for election. 

Poll card

Poll cards are sent to all registered voters just before the election, giving details of where and when they can vote. You can still vote even if you do not have a poll card, as long as you are on the electoral register.

Polling day

General elections are usually held at least 17 working days after the dissolution of Parliament. General elections are normally held on Thursdays, although there is no law that says this should be so. The last general election to be held on a day other than a Thursday was on Tuesday 27 October 1931.

Polling hours

Polling stations are open between 7.00 am to 10.00 pm for the election. Check your poll card to see that these times have not changed.

Polling station

Voting takes place in a secret ballot at the polling station. Registered voters will be sent details of their local polling station just before the election. The only people allowed in the polling station are the presiding officer, the polling clerks, duty police officers, the candidates, their election agents and polling agents and the voters.

Postal vote

If you live in the UK or abroad and apply in time, you can vote by post. Anyone can apply for a postal vote – you don't need to give a reason.

Presiding officer

The presiding officer is responsible for ensuring the conduct of the voting in polling stations. He or she has to make sure ballot boxes are kept secure and is responsible for transferring them safely to the count.


Prorogation is the formal end to the Parliamentary year and happens when a general election is called. Any Bills which have not obtained royal assent will usually 'die'.

Proxy vote

If you live in the UK or abroad and you're unable to vote in person, you can ask someone to vote on your behalf, and tell them who to vote for. This is called a proxy vote. When you apply for a proxy vote, you have to give a valid reason.


Special rules govern the conduct of the civil service from the date the election is called until the day of the election. This is sometimes known as purdah. These rules aim to ensure that public resources are not used for party political purposes, and that there is no activity which could call into question the political impartiality of the civil service. It is also important that any activity does not draw attention away from the election itself.

Qualifying Commonwealth citizens

Some Commonwealth citizens have the right to vote in UK elections. Qualifying Commonwealth citizens are those who have leave to enter or remain in the UK, or do not require such leave.


If the result of the election count is close then a candidate can demand a recount. The returning officer can refuse this request if he or she thinks it is unreasonable. Recounts can continue until both candidates and the returning officer are satisfied with the result.

Returning officer

The returning officer is the person who has the overall responsibility for running the election in each constituency. The returning officer will declare the constituency's result following the count.

Rolling registration

'Rolling registration' is the monthly update to the electoral register. If you are eligible to vote, you can register at any time by filling in a registration form and sending it to your local electoral registration office.

Service voter

Members of the Armed Forces – or their spouse or registered civil partner – should register as a service voter if they are based overseas or think they may be posted overseas in the next year. This allows you to register at a fixed address in the UK even if you move around.

Spoilt ballot

Voters may choose to spoil their vote. If a voter spoils their vote by accident, then it must be returned to the presiding officer. If the presiding officer is satisfied that the spoiling is accidental, then another ballot paper is provided.


Suffrage is term that describes the legal right to vote. Changes in the law over the last 200 years have greatly extended the number of people with the right to vote in UK elections.


These are supporters of the political parties who wait outside polling stations and ask people for their number on the electoral roll. This is to help the parties check that their supporters have voted. Tellers have no official status and no-one is obliged to give them any information.


This is the percentage of people eligible to vote who actually did so. The turnout for the 2005 general election was 61 per cent.

Test roll

In the House of Commons the test roll is the book that new MPs sign when they are sworn in after a general election. The MPs sign their name and their constituency.

Writs of election

These are the official notices issued to Acting Returning Officers telling them that an election is to be held in their constituency.

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