How to vote in the upcoming Scottish Parliament election

On Thursday 6 May 2021 there will be an election to the Scottish Parliament. This blog with information from the Electoral Commission explains everything you need to know about how to register to vote and participate in the election


What does the Scottish Parliament do?

The Scottish Parliament has powers to make laws for Scotland in a range of areas including health, education, housing, justice and the environment.

The people elected to the Scottish Parliament are called Members of the Scottish Parliament, or MSPs for short. There are 129 elected MSPs and every person in Scotland is represented by eight of them.

Each MSP looks after a particular area in Scotland. 73 MSPs are constituency MSPs, representing local areas. 56 are regional MSPs who look after a much bigger parliamentary area, known as a region. You are represented by one constituency MSP and seven regional MSPs.

For more information about the Scottish Parliament, go to

Learning resources for young voters

The election on 6 May will be the first opportunity many 16 and 17 year olds will have to vote in an election, so we recently launched a new set of political literacy resources for 14-18 year olds.

The resources are designed to help young people feel more confident about casting their vote and include a voting guide and videos.


Resources to raise awareness of voting

To help reach as many people as possible, we recently published a range of digital and print resources for partners to use to raise awareness amongst their service-users.

These include resources to encourage registration and resources to help voters understand how to vote and what to expect when voting during Covid-19.

Who can vote in the election?

You can vote in this election if you are registered to vote in Scotland and will be 16 or over on Thursday 6 May and are:

  • a British or Irish citizen, or
  • a Commonwealth citizen who has leave to remain in the UK or does not require leave to remain in the UK, or
  • a citizen of a European Union Country, or
  • a qualifying foreign national who has permission to enter or remain in the UK, or who does not need such permission.


Registering to vote

If a person has never registered or has recently moved house, they need to register by midnight on Monday 19 April to vote in the May 2021 Scottish Parliament election. They can register at – it only takes five minutes. They can also call 0800 3 280 280 for more information about how to register.

When registering to vote a person must provide their National Insurance number. If a person doesn’t have a National Insurance number, they need to state this in their registration application then continue to submit it. Their Electoral Registration Officer will then contact them to ask them to provide documentary evidence to prove their identity.

Electoral Registration Officers are appointed by councils and are responsible for registering voters. They can provide assistance with registration queries and you can find details for the person’s local Electoral Registration Officer by entering their postcode here.

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Applying to register anonymously

All voters are required to give basic personal information to their local electoral registration office when they register to vote. The names and addresses of most voters will then appear on the electoral register, which is a public document.

However, some survivors of domestic abuse and other crimes may feel unable to exercise their right to vote because they’re worried that perpetrators will be able to trace them by searching the electoral register for their new address.

If a person thinks that their name and address being on the electoral register could affect their safety, or the safety or someone in their household, they can apply to register to vote anonymously.

This means they will still be able to vote, but their name and address will not appear on the electoral register. Their electoral registration office will not disclose their details to anyone, unless they are legally required to.

Fine out more about applying to register to vote anonymously here.

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How to vote

There are three ways to vote:

  • In person at a polling station on Thursday 6 May 2021

Voters will be sent a poll card telling them where their polling place is. They don’t need their poll card to vote and if they lose it, or don’t receive it, they can contact their local council to find out where their polling place is. Polling places are open from 7am to 10pm.

  • By post

To apply to vote by post, the person must complete a postal vote application form and send it to their electoral registration office to arrive by 5pm on Tuesday 6 April.

They will receive their ballot papers by post. They should complete and return their ballot papers, ensuring they leave enough time for them to arrive by 10pm on Thursday 6 May.

  • By proxy (allowing somebody you trust to vote on your behalf)

To apply to vote by proxy, the person must complete an application form and send it to their local electoral registration office to arrive by 5pm on Tuesday 27 April.

In an emergency, where a person cannot go to the polling station in person, they can apply for an emergency proxy up to 5pm on Thursday 6 May.

For more information about applying to vote by post or proxy click here or call our helpline on 0800 3 280 280.

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What should voters expect at the polling place?

Polling places will be safe places to vote during Covid-19 and will comply with Public Health Scotland guidance. A number of measures will be put into place to help voters stay safe when voting in person at the polling place. Voters can expect to see many of the measures we’ve all become used to over recent months in shops and other indoor spaces.

If a person does not want to vote in person, they can vote by post or by proxy (asking someone they trust to vote on their behalf). They need to complete an application to vote by post or by proxy. If they are not already registered to vote, they must also register for their application to be accepted.

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How do voters complete the ballot papers?

Voters will receive two ballot papers and will vote once on each paper.

On the constituency ballot paper, they will vote for a candidate to represent their constituency. They will mark a cross (X) in the box opposite the name of one candidate.

In the regional ballot paper, they vote for a party or independent candidate to represent their region. They will mark a cross (X) in the box opposite the name of one party or candidate.

Find out more at