Find out how elections are run, how to register to vote, where to find election results, how constituency boundaries are decided and reviewed and how to become an election observer.
The electoral register
The electoral register (sometimes called the 'electoral roll') is a list of the names and addresses of everyone in Northern Ireland who is registered to vote. There are two versions:
- the 'full register' is mainly used for elections, but can also be used for other purposes such as preventing and detecting crime, and checking applications for loans or credit
- the 'edited register' is available for general sale and can be used for marketing and other commercial activities
Your name and address will automatically appear on the full register, but you can choose to have your name omitted from the edited register by ticking a box on the registration form.
You can also contact the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland and ask to be removed.
The register is always being updated using information from you, for example change of name or address, and organisations such as government bodies and schools.
Updates to the register are published on the first working day of each month and a new version is published on 1 December each year. There is no annual canvass of the electorate in Northern Ireland.
Register to vote
You can register to vote if you are:
- a British, Irish or Commonwealth citizen, or a citizen of a Member State of the European Union
- 17 or over (though you are only eligible to vote when you are 18 or over)
You cannot vote if you are not registered, but if you do register you can also get a free Electoral Identity Card which is widely accepted as proof of identity for domestic travel and opening a bank account.
If you are eligible to vote, you can register at any time. However, there will be deadlines to register ahead of elections. These deadlines will also apply if you need to update your details.
You can now register to vote online - you will need your National Insurance number. You can get further information or register at this link:
You can also download a form to register at this link:
You can also use this form to register a change of name or address. Completed forms can be brought to the your nearest local Electoral Office.
You can check to see if you are registered by phoning the Electoral Office.
Elections in Northern Ireland
Voters in Northern Ireland can vote in three elections. They are:
- the UK Parliamentary elections
- the Northern Ireland Assembly elections
- the Local Government elections
UK Parliamentary elections
In a general election, every area in the UK votes for one Member of Parliament (MP) to represent them in the House of Commons at Westminster. There are 650 geographical areas, called constituencies. Northern Ireland has 18 of these Westminster constituencies, each with one MP.
Each eligible voter has one vote in their local constituency, and the candidate with the most votes becomes the MP for that area. This voting system is called 'first past the post'.
Usually the political party with the most MPs then forms the government – though two or more parties with a combined majority of MPs may form a coalition government.
The most recent general election was held on 12 December 2019.
Northern Ireland Assembly elections
Elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly normally take place every five years.
The last election was held on 2 March 2017.
Each of the 18 Northern Ireland constituencies has elected five Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) giving a total of 90 MLAs.
To be able to vote you must register with the electoral office.
More information is available below:
Local government elections
Elections to local government, commonly called local councils, take place every four years. The last elections for local government were held on 2 May 2019. The number of councillors varies from council to council depending largely on the size of the council area.
Proportional Representation (PR) is an electoral system designed to make sure that the candidates elected represent accurately the opinions of the voters. This means that the strength of each party elected is in proportion to its support among the people.
The system used in Northern Ireland is called the Single Transferable Vote (STV). It is a form of Proportional Representation (PR).
Every voter has only one vote, but they can ask for it to be transferred from one candidate to another to make sure it is not wasted. This is done by numbering the candidates in order of preference 1,2,3,4,5 and so on instead of just putting an 'X' against one of them.
The STV system is used at all elections in Northern Ireland except elections to the Westminster Parliament.
At elections to the Westminister Parliament the traditional first-past-the-post system is used. This means you simply put an 'X' against the candidate you support.
Voting at elections
You can vote in Northern Ireland elections if you are on the electoral register and are aged 18 or over on polling day. You can vote in person, at a polling station, by post or by proxy.
If you have a disability, you should have access to vote at local and general elections regardless of whether you choose to vote at a polling station or in another way, for example by post.
Find out more about accessible voting for people with disabilities.
Voting at a polling station
You can vote at a local polling station, usually a nearby school or hall. You'll get a poll card before the election, telling you where and when to vote. You do not need a poll card to vote, it is for information purposes only.
Polling stations are open from 7.00 am to 10.00 pm on the day of an election.
When voting at a polling station in Northern Ireland you are required to present acceptable photographic identification. The identity document does not need to be current.
The poll card will tell you the types of photographic identification that will be accepted or you can check the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland (EONI) website.
One of the types of acceptable photographic identification is an Electoral Identity Card. It is the same size as a credit card and you can apply for a free Electoral Identity Card from your local Area Electoral Office.
When you go to vote, the staff will check your name and address and photographic ID and give you a ballot paper.
Read the ballot paper carefully. It will list the parties and candidates you can vote for, and tell you how to cast your vote.
The voting takes place in a screened booth. When you've marked your vote, fold the ballot paper in half and put it in the ballot box. Do not write anything else on the ballot paper or your vote may not count. If you're not sure what to do, ask the staff to help you.
Voting by post or by proxy
If you have a valid reason you can apply to vote by post or by proxy.
You must explain why it is unreasonable to expect you to go to your allotted polling station, for example because you will be on holiday or because you are ill. The form must be returned no later than 14 working days before the date of the election
If you are voting by post a ballot paper will be sent to you about 10 days before the election. Mark the ballot paper and make sure that it is returned to the Area Electoral Office by 10.00 pm on election day.
If you are voting by proxy, this means that the person you have asked to vote on your behalf will go to the polling station to place your vote. You do not have to do anything.
The results for elections held in Northern Ireland are published on the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland (EONI) website. You can also find the latest election coverage on news websites, radio and social media.
Preventing election fraud
There are laws and security measures to prevent electoral fraud. It is an offence to:
- falsely apply for a postal or proxy vote
- give false information or fail to give information to the electoral registration officer
- unduly influence someone, even if it does not affect the way they vote
Organisations and anyone over the age of 16 can apply to become an election observer. This means you can go along to polling stations, be at the issue and receipt of postal ballot papers, and at the counting of votes.
It is an important way to make sure that election arrangements meet internationally-accepted standards.
The Chief Electoral Officer
The Chief Electoral Officer administers elections and compiles the electoral register in Northern Ireland. The role is independent of government and is helped by the staff of the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland. The current Chief Electoral Officer is Virginia McVea.
The Electoral Commission
The Electoral Commission is an independent body that works to make sure elections, referendums and electoral registration are well run in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. It also makes sure people understand the rules around money for political parties and that it is being used appropriately.
Constituencies and boundaries
The Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland reviews the parliamentary constituencies in Northern Ireland, and submits recommendations to the Secretary of State for changes to the constituency boundaries.
Standing for election
During election periods the Electoral Office publishes information for people interested in standing as a candidate in different types of elections.