Electoral terms explained

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Absent voter - Any elector who chooses to vote by postal vote or proxy vote, rather than in person at the polling station.

Anonymous registration - This is a type of registration by which those people who feel that being on the Electoral Register could affect their safety (for instance, if they are escaping from domestic violence or their occupation would mean they must keep their identity private), can be registered without their name appearing on written records. There are criteria to be met before this can take place.

Attainer - Person aged 16 or 17 who is going to become of voting age (18 years old) during the life of the current Electoral Register.


Ballot box - A ballot box is the sealed container used to retain elector's ballot paper(s), from the moment they are completed by voters until the moment they are counted. The seal of a ballot box can only be broken at the count, and under strict rules

Ballot paper - A ballot paper is a pre-printed form, which lists all the candidates standing for election. Before you receive your ballot paper at the polling station, you will need to inform the poll clerk who you are and where you live. The poll clerk will then endorse your ballot paper with an official perforated mark. If your ballot paper does not have this mark it will not be valid. You must then go into a voting booth to make a mark on the ballot paper against the candidate or candidates for whom you wish to vote (this mark is usually an "X"). You should then fold your paper and place it in the ballot box. Postal voters receive their ballot papers by post at a designated address.

By election - A by election is held when a seat held by an elected representative or assembly member becomes vacant.


Canvass - Also known as Annual Canvass; it refers to the period during which the council contacts each property in the borough requesting the names and nationalities of residents eligible to vote in the UK. This period runs approximately from the beginning of August to the end of November, leading to the publishing of the revised Electoral Register on the 1st December each year. The Canvass is a statutory duty of the Electoral Registration Officer under Section 10 of the RPA 1983. 

Constituency - Geographical area that an elected representative or group of representatives represents. In Hillingdon there are 3 Parliamentary constituencies (Hayes and Harlington, Ruislip Northwood and Pinner and Uxbridge and South Ruislip) each electing one representative at General Elections (MP). The borough also shares a constituency with Ealing to elect one representative for the London Assembly at Greater London Authority Elections.

Councillor - Local Government elected representative. Hillingdon is represented by a total of 65 councillors (three councillors elected per each of the 22 wards with the exception of Harefield which has two). Councillors are elected every four years (last election was in May 2018).

Count, the - Refers to the end of an election when all votes are verified and counted leading to the announcement of an elected representative.


Election - Democratic process by which electors choose candidates to represent them in official posts.

Electoral Register - Also know as Electoral Roll and Register of Electors, the Electoral Register is the list compiled by the council of people eligible to vote in elections in the borough. It is a statutory duty of the Electoral Registration Officer to compile and maintain the Register.

Electoral Administration Act 2006 - This is an Act of Parliament, which introduces important changes to how registration and elections are run in the UK. The Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on the 11 October 2005, and received Royal Assent on the 11 July 2006.

Electoral Registration Officer - Person appointed by the council who is responsible for maintaining and guarding the Electoral Register in accordance with the law.

Electoral Roll - See Electoral Register


Full Register - This is the full version of the Electoral Register. It lists the names and addresses of all registered electors. Access to the Full Register is strictly controlled and may only be used for a very limited number of reasons, including the organisation of elections, credit references and crime investigation. See also Open Register.


HEF - Household Enquiry Form - In instances where there a potential change of residency at a property has been identified, a Household Enquiry Form, which is similar to the existing canvass form, can be sent out. All new electors identified on HEFs will then invited to provide their personal identifiers. Failure to supply them will mean that those names are not added to the register.  IER background (PDF) [23KB]


IER - Individual Electoral Registration - This is a new system of registration which has been introduced to ensure greater confidence as to the identity of electors and improved access to the registration process. Read more about Individual Electoral Registration

ITR - Invitation to Register - Those who are not automatically registered under the new system as their details did not successfully verify with the DWP's records will be invited to provide their personal identifiers.  IER background (PDF) [23KB] 


MEP - MEP or Member of European Parliament. MEP's are elected every five years at European Parliamentary Elections.

MP - MP or Member of Parliament. It refers to the Members of the House of Commons. MPs are elected every five years at UK Parliamentary elections (also known as General elections).


Open Register (also known as the Edited Register) This is a shortened version of the full Electoral Register, which contains only the names and addresses of those who have chosen not to opt out, which can be sold for commercial purposes. This version is available for public inspection in all local libraries and may be purchased or used for any lawful purpose, including direct marketing. See also Full Register.

Opt-out - This expression is used in connection with the open Register. If someone says they would like to opt-out of the open Register, it means they would like their name and address not included in this version.

Overseas Elector - An overseas elector is a British citizen living abroad, who is eligible to register to vote at UK General Elections, European Parliamentary Elections for the UK and national referendums. To be eligible to register as an overseas elector the person must hold a valid British passport and must appear on the Electoral Register for an address in the borough within the last fifteen years from application. If the person was too young to be included in the Register when he/she left the country, he/she may still be eligible to register if the parents or guardians were themselves included in the Electoral Register at any point during the last fifteen years from application. An overseas elector loses their right to vote in UK elections after 15 years from the date on which he/she was last registered to vote in the UK.


Personal Identifiers - Electors applying for a postal or proxy vote must provide their date of birth and a sample of their signature (both personal identifiers). This is a requirement under the Electoral Administration Act 2006, designed to assist electoral administrators in the detection of postal voting fraud. Personal identifiers are checked against a statement, which the voter must complete and return with their ballot paper.

Poll card - This is a reminder for an election that is going to take place. They are issued to each elector eligible to vote at that given election and delivered to the address in the Register, two to three weeks before polling day. A poll card must set out: the elector's name, qualifying address and number on the Register; name of the constituency and/or ward; the date and hours of the poll; and the location of the elector's polling station. It is common practice to also include: deadline dates for postal vote and proxy vote applications; election help line number; polling station access for people with disabilities; and a map of the polling venue.

Poll Clerk - Clerical assistant of the Presiding Officer at a polling station. Responsibilities include checking your name against an address on the Electoral Register and issuing ballot papers.

Polling day - Polling day, day of poll or election day is the day on which an election takes place. This normally held on the first Thursday of the month of the election.

Polling district - A sub-division of a ward. There is one polling station location within each polling district.

Polling station - Physical place where an elector has to go to vote. In cases where an elector cannot or does not wish to vote in person, he/she may apply for a postal vote or a proxy vote. .

Postal proxy vote - This is when your proxy chooses to vote by post. See also proxy vote.

Postal vote - This is when you choose to receive your ballot papers by post at a specified address, anywhere in the world.

Presiding Officer - Responsible officer for a polling station on election day. Responsibilities include supervision of the lawful voting process inside the polling station and transport of ballot boxes for the count at the end of poll.

Proxy vote - This is when you appoint someone to vote on your behalf. This person, called a proxy, can be a relative or a friend. This person can then vote in person at your polling station on election day, or choose to have a postal vote (postal proxy vote).


Register of Electors - See Electoral Register.

Referendum (pl. Referenda or Referendums) - Direct vote in which the entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal. Takes place only when called by the Government.

Returning Officer - The person ultimately responsible for the conduct of an election in accordance with the law.

Rolling Registration - Period of registration, which runs yearly from the beginning of December until mid-August. Read more about Rolling Registration.

RPA 1983 - Stands for Representation of the People Act from 1983. Main legal document regulating electoral administration.

RPR 2001 - Stands for Representation of the People Regulations from 2001. Main legal document regulating electoral administration.


Voting booth - This is the cubicle inside a polling station enabling electors to vote in privacy.


Waiver - The word is used in Electoral Services in connection with the submission of personal identifiers requested when an application for absent voting is made (postal or proxy). It refers to the exception from having to submit such identifiers to the Electoral Registration Officer on grounds of disability or when an elector cannot read or write.

Ward - Electoral district inside a borough. Hillingdon is divided into 22 wards, each of which is represented by 3 councillors with the exception of Harefield, which has two.

Page last updated: 18 May 2022