A UK Paper-Ballot ElectionThis is quick tour of the voting process from when the polls open (typically 7am in the UK) until they close (typically 10pm) on polling day (often a Thursday in the UK), and then how the votes are counted and the results declared.
1: The polling station will have large clear signs outside; you have to find the correct polling station for your ward/area/constituency...
2: ...but you should have been notified of that by post, with the notices typically showing a simple map. (This postcard notice was for a General Election.)
Postal votes are available if you will not be able to vote in person, eg if you are out of the country on polling day.
3: When you walk into the polling station you will usually be able to see the ballot box, and the officials who will issue you with your ballot paper with which you cast your vote (or votes).
You can see various signs pinned up such as "APPLY HERE for BALLOT PAPERS", offering the use of a magnifying glass if you need one to complete your vote, and listing the candidates and voting method. Not all UK elections are "first past the post" with a single vote, for example.
The officials check that no one person's vote is used more than once, and tally up the total number of ballot papers issued in order to help verify that all the ballots make it safely to the count.
4: The offical will hand you a fresh ballot paper, typically torn off a pad (the officials keep all the unused forms to be counted to double-check that all the filled-in ones arrived at the count, for example), and possibly folded in half to save you having to do it.
5: Then you take your ballot paper to one of the voting booths, and out of site of anyone else, cast your vote(s) by marking X or numbers as appropriate.
6: Having cast your vote, you drop your vote in through the slot in the top of the ballot box without letting anyone else see how you voted. You can see various seals and locks on the box to prevent anyone tampering with its contents, and labels to help keep track of it.
7: When voting finished for the day, each ballot box is sealed shut so that no more ballots can be inserted.
8: Each ballot box is then taken to be counted, immediately or maybe the next day.
9: In the case of the Brighton and Hove local elections in May 2007, the boxes were stored overnight in the main count room, watched over by CCTV, security guards and the police.
10: As the count begins, first the ballot papers are counted to make sure that all of them arrived safely, then the votes themselves are recorded. Depending on the voting mechanism there may be more than one vote on each ballot paper.
Note that the count can be observed in the count room by the candidates and their agents; no press or news organisation is allowed access, though they can typically watch from a balcony.
11: As the results are finalised for each seat being decided, a "declaration" is made, either by the Returning Officer or on their behalf, indicating the winner(s) of the poll/vote for that seat.