On Thursday 5 May, local elections are being held in England and Wales (as are council elections in Scotland and Assembly elections in Northern Ireland).
However, the way the voting system for local elections in England and Wales was explained on the Gov.uk website may have caused confusion.
Until the morning of 5 May, it said: “Local government councillors in England and Wales are elected using the First Past the Post system. You vote for one candidate in your local area and the candidate with the most votes wins.”
Both the Electoral Commission and the UK Parliament websites state that the local elections in England and Wales use the First Past the Post voting system. In general elections, this means the candidate with the most votes wins.
However, in the local elections, the number of candidates you can vote for depends on how many councillor vacancies there are for your area. So the Gov.uk website was wrong to say you “vote for one candidate”. Or, as a tweet from the Electoral Commission put it, “it is first, second and third past the post” in areas with three councillor vacancies.
It’s unclear exactly how long the advice on Gov.uk had been live, but it appears to have been on the site since at least 2018. It was flagged and corrected on the morning of 5 May 2022, as voting in local elections was underway.
How do the local elections work?
Local authorities in England and Wales are divided into smaller areas, called wards, which will each have one or more councillors. In the City of London, for example, between two and ten councillors can represent each ward, depending on the size of the electorate.
Some wards will have more than one councillor vacancy in the local elections on 5 May 2022, meaning you can vote for more than one candidate.
The Electoral Commission says on its website about local election voting in England and Wales: “The ballot paper will list the candidates for your area. You can vote for as many candidates as there are councillor vacancies, by putting a cross [X] in the box next to your choice. For example, if you are represented by three councillors and there are three vacancies, you can vote for three candidates. The ballot paper will explain how many candidates you can vote for.”
In response to a tweet about the Gov.uk error, the Electoral Commission said it would contact the Government Digital Service. The Gov.uk page has now been corrected, and reads: “Local government councillors in England and Wales are elected using the First Past the Post system. The ballot paper will tell you the number of candidates you can vote for.”
The Electoral Commission added in a tweet that “there are tailored instructions about the number of candidates voters can vote for in each election area. If voters can only vote for one or two candidates, this will be made clear at their polling stations”.
You can use the Who can I vote for? website to see how many candidates you can vote for.
Picture courtesy of Steve Houghton-Burnett.