Absentee Ballot

An absentee ballot is cast when the voter cannot (or does not wish to) physically attend their allocated polling station to vote.  

In the United Kingdom, we have access to postal votes, meaning that citizens of the UK that are eligible to vote may do so from anywhere in the world (providing that their postal vote will arrive in time to be counted).  To vote by post, you must fill out and sign a form, which then must be returned to your local election registration office in advance of the election. 

Alternatively, if you are not able to attend your local polling station, you may cast a proxy vote.  This involves choosing someone (who is over 18 and registered to vote in the UK) to vote on your behalf.  As with the postal vote, your decision to vote by proxy must be declared in advance.




Ballot, Ballot Box and Ballot Stuffing


In the United Kingdom, the term “ballot” can refer to two things.  A ballot can either refer to an election within an organisation, or the paper on which a secret vote is made (more commonly called a “ballot paper”).  In parliamentary elections in the UK, the ballot papers are pre-printed to protect the secrecy of the votes – each person uses one ballot (paper).  The ballot is then folded and put into a locked container known as the “ballot box” through a narrow slot at the top.  The ballot box cannot be opened until voting has ended.

Ballot Stuffing 

Ballot stuffing refers to when someone votes more than once in an election that only allows one vote per individual.  In the UK, measures are taken to avoid the possibility of ballot stuffing as the voter must declare themselves as present before receiving their blank ballot paper: in this way, officials can ensure that the number of people marked as present (or voted for by proxy) match the amount of ballot papers.


Voting Terminology

In the political context, “abstention” often refers to abstaining from voting – that is, deciding not to vote for whatever reason.  Abstaining from voting can often be a form of protest (if none of the options are seen as suitable), though it may well be the case that the voter simply doesn’t feel knowledgeable enough about the situation, or in a parliamentary context, that there would be a conflict of interest if the MP were to vote on a subject.  

It’s important to note, though, that abstaining is not the same as casting a blank vote.  A blank vote occurs when a voter returns the ballot paper either blank (hence the name), or intentionally spoilt.  Abstention is when a vote is not cast at all.    



The Whip System

Whips are MPs or Lords appointed by each party in Parliament to help organise their party's contribution to parliamentary business. One of their responsibilities is making sure the maximum number of their party members vote, and vote the way their party wants 

Whips frequently act as tellers (counting votes in divisions). They also manage the pairing system whereby Members of opposing parties both agree not to vote when other business (such as a select committee visit) prevents them from being present at Westminster.Whips are also largely responsible (together with the Leader of the House in the Commons) for arranging the business of Parliament. In this role they are frequently referred to as 'the usual channels'.

The Whip

Every week, whips send out a circular (called 'The Whip') to their MPs or Lords detailing upcoming parliamentary business. Special attention is paid to divisions (where members vote on debates), which are ranked in order of importance by the number of times they are underlined. Important divisions are underlined three times - a 'three-line whip' - and normally apply to major events like the second readings of significant Bills.



Three-line whips

Defying a three-line whip is very serious, and has occasionally resulted in the whip being withdrawn from an MP or Lord. This means that the Member is effectively expelled from their party (but keeps their seat) and must sit as an independent until the whip is restored.



Small majorities and whips

The job of the whips becomes more important if the majority of the party in government is small. This makes it easy for the government to lose in major votes. Therefore, it's crucial that the whips on both sides (government and opposition) try to get as many Members to vote as possible.