Code of conduct for campaigners
Electoral registration, postal voting, proxy voting and polling stations
Campaigners are an essential element of a healthy democracy, and their right to put their arguments to voters should be supported and protected. It is equally important, however, to ensure that the activities of campaigners do not bring into question the integrity of the electoral process.
This Code provides a guide for campaigners, electoral administrators and police forces to what is, and is not, considered acceptable behaviour at polling stations and in the community during the lead-up to polling day.
As a guiding principle, if there is any doubt about a particular activity, campaigners should ask themselves “What would a reasonable observer think?”
More detailed guidance about electoral offences can be found in the guidance for candidates and agents, which is available at on the Electoral Commission website.
The Code has been sent to all registered political parties in Great Britain, and Returning Officers will draw it to the attention of all candidates and parties contesting elections.
Some Returning Officers may identify the need to develop and seek agreement to specific local provisions which supplement the terms of this Code, in order to address identified local risks. Returning Officers must consult with local campaigners and the relevant national Nominating Officers as well as police forces to secure appropriate local agreement to such provisions, and should ensure that they are communicated and wellunderstood by campaigners locally.
Scope of this code
This code covers all those actively involved in campaigning in elections or referendums in Great Britain. All references to campaigners in this code include:
- Candidates standing at an election, their agents and their staff and supporters
- Political party officers, members and supporters campaigning at an election
- Other people and organisations campaigning for or against a candidate, a group of candidates or a party at an election
- People and organisations campaigning for or against a particular outcome at a referendum
Compliance with this code
Any concerns that this code has been breached should be raised first with the candidate, political party or campaigner in question.
Any further concerns should be drawn to the attention of the Electoral Commission. The Commission will raise them with the relevant party or campaigner if appropriate, and will agree appropriate actions to remedy or prevent a reoccurrence of any breach.
1. Electoral registration and absent vote applications
1.1 Campaigners should be free to encourage voters to register to vote and apply to vote by post or appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf, if that is the most convenient way for them to vote.
Campaigners can help to inform voters about how to participate in elections, and Electoral Registration Officers should support you by providing you with a reasonable number of registration and absent vote application forms on request. Voters can also register online.
1.2 Campaigners should ensure that any electoral registration forms and postal or proxy voting application forms conform fully to the requirements of electoral law, including all the necessary questions and the options open to electors.
1.3 Campaigners should ensure that the local Electoral Registration Officer’s address is clearly provided as the preferred address for the return of registration and absent vote application forms.
To ensure voters can make their own choice about how to return registration or absent vote application forms, you should always clearly provide the relevant Electoral Registration Officer’s address as the preferred return address, even if an alternative address is also given. This will also minimise the risk of suspicion that completed applications could be altered or inadvertently lost or destroyed.
1.4 Campaigners should send on unaltered any completed registration or absent vote application forms given to them to the relevant Electoral Registration Officer’s address within two working days of receipt.
To minimise the risk of absent vote applications being refused because completed forms arrive with the Electoral Registration Officer after the statutory deadline before a poll, you must ensure that there is no unnecessary delay in forwarding on application forms which you receive directly.
1.5 Campaigners should always explain to electors the implications of applying to vote by post or appointing a proxy.
It is important that electors understand that they will not be able to vote in person on polling day if they or their proxy apply for and are granted a postal vote, and will not be able to vote in person if their appointed proxy has already voted on their behalf. To avoid duplication and unnecessary administrative pressures for Electoral Registration Officers, campaigners should try to ensure that electors who are included in current postal or proxy voter lists, or have already applied for a postal or proxy vote for a particular poll, do not submit an additional application.
Postal vote applications
1.6 Campaigners should never encourage electors to have their postal ballot pack redirected to anywhere other than the address where they are registered to vote.
Electors should take care to protect their ballot paper and postal ballot pack, and they will be best able to do so at their home address unless there are compelling reasons why receiving the postal ballot pack at the address where they are registered to vote would be impractical. Electors must state on the application form the reason why they need their postal ballot pack sent to another address.
Proxy vote applications
1.7 Electors should be encouraged to explore other options for people to act as a proxy – including relatives or neighbours, for example – before a campaigner agrees to be appointed as a proxy.
To minimise the risk of suspicions that campaigners may be seeking to place undue pressure on electors, electors should not be encouraged to appoint a campaigner as their proxy.
2. Postal voting ballot papers
2.1 Campaigners should never touch or handle anyone else’s ballot paper.
If you are asked for assistance in completing a ballot paper, you should always refer the voter to the Returning Officer’s staff at the elections office who may be able to arrange a home visit if necessary. Assistance will also be available for electors at polling stations.
2.2 Campaigners should never observe voters completing their ballot paper. If you are with a voter when they complete their ballot paper, remember they should always complete it in secret.
You should ensure that the voter seals both envelopes personally and immediately after completing their ballot paper and postal voting statement. If you are asked to give advice, it is acceptable and often helpful to explain the voting process, but do not offer to help anyone to complete their ballot paper.
2.3 Campaigners should never handle or take any completed ballot paper or postal ballot packs from voters.
Wherever practical, you should encourage voters to post or deliver the completed postal ballot pack themselves. If you are approached or asked for help by a voter who is unable to post their completed postal ballot pack or make any other arrangements for it to be returned in time, you should contact the Returning Officer to ask them to arrange for it to be collected. The Returning Officer may agree that it would be in the voter’s best interest for you to deliver the completed postal ballot pack to the relevant office or polling station, if there are no feasible alternative options.
3. Campaigning outside polling places
3.1 Campaigners should be allowed to put their messages to voters on polling day, including in public spaces outside polling places.
Polling station staff and police officers should not seek to discourage or remove campaigners who are otherwise peacefully communicating with voters, as long as they are not within or impeding access to the grounds of the polling place. You should be careful, however, to ensure that your approach is proportionate and should recognise that groups of supporters may be perceived as intimidating by voters.
3.2 Campaigners should keep access to polling places and the pavements around polling places clear to allow voters to enter.
The Presiding Officer is responsible for maintaining order in the polling place, and you may be asked to move by polling station staff or police officers if you are impeding access by voters to a polling place.
4. Complaints and allegations about electoral fraud
4.1 Campaigners should be prepared to give the police a statement and substantiate any allegations of electoral fraud they make.
The police will investigate allegations where someone is prepared to provide evidence or a statement in support of the complaint, but unsubstantiated claims about electoral fraud have the potential to damage confidence in the integrity of the electoral process. You should ensure you are confident that evidence can be provided to the police before considering whether it is appropriate to publicise any specific allegation.
4.2 Campaigners who are concerned or think that electoral fraud may have taken place should raise the matter with their election agent or local party, or with the relevant Electoral Registration Officer or Returning Officer for the area.
They may be able to explain whether or not an election-related crime has been committed, and refer it to the police if appropriate or provide details of the police contact for the relevant area so that campaigners can report their allegation. Concerns about breaches of the political finance rules should be raised directly with the Electoral Commission.
4.3 Any campaigner who has actual evidence that an electoral offence has been committed should report it directly and without delay to the police.
If appropriate, the police will investigate the matter. Every police force has designated a Single Point of Contact (known as a SPOC) to lead on election matters and who will deal directly with the matter or give advice to local police officers. The Electoral Commission can help provide contact details for local police force SPOCs.
Agreed and effective from December 2015