Voting in local government elections

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Local elections will be held on 5 May 2022 in Scotland. This blog article describes who has the right to vote in those elections and how they can do so.

Who has the right to vote?

The electoral franchise (who can vote) in Scotland is specific to Scottish elections. Scottish elections are elections for the Scottish Parliament and local government. This blog article focuses on the electoral franchise in Scotland only. To have a right to vote, a person must:

  • Be 16 years or older;
  • Be legally resident in Scotland; and
  • Not be disqualified from voting as a result of offences they have committed


A person must be 16 years or older to vote in Scottish elections. The Scottish Elections (Reduction of Voting Age) Act 2015 reduced the voting age from 18 to 16 for Scottish elections.

A person who is approaching voting age can apply to be added to the electoral register before they reach the legal voting age. A person in this situation is known as an ‘attainer’. In Scotland people are able to register for their name to be included on the electoral register from the age of 14 but cannot vote until they reach the age of 16.


To vote in Scottish elections, a person can have any citizenship as long as they are legally resident. This change was brought about by the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Act 2020.

Non-UK citizens can be legally resident if they either have leave to remain or do not require leave to remain, for example if they are a Commonwealth citizen (or the child of one) who came to the UK before 1973. Refugees have the right to vote, but asylum seekers do not as their claim has not yet been determined.

UK citizens who live overseas cannot vote in local government elections.

People who fulfil the residency criteria in more than one geographical area are allowed to appear on the electoral register in both areas. This may apply to students who have separate term-time and non-term time addresses in different local authorities in Scotland. Whilst people can be on the electoral register for both areas, they can only vote in one local authority area on May 5th. This change was brought about by the Scottish Elections (Reform) Act 2020.

If a person fulfils residency criteria in one local authority area in Scotland and another elsewhere in the UK, for example a student who has a term-time address in Scotland but their home address is elsewhere in the UK, then they may be able to vote in both areas. This is dependent on meeting strict residency requirements in both areas. People should only try to register in more than one area if they believe they have a permanent home in both areas.

Although voters must be legally resident in the UK, this does not mean that they must have a permanent address. Homeless people, people living in boats or other moveable residences, members of gypsy or traveller communities without a permanent address, merchant seamen without a permanent address, prisoners remanded in custody, those under 18 living in secure accommodation, and inpatients in mental health hospitals can vote if they make a declaration of local connection.

Legal Incapacity

Some people do not have the right to vote in local government elections in Scotland because they have been sentenced to certain offences. People found guilty of corrupt or illegal practices in connection with an election in the previous five years cannot vote. In addition, prisoners serving a combined sentence longer than 12 months (other than for contempt of court) cannot vote, but those who have been sentenced to a shorter sentence can vote by post or proxy as a result of the Scottish Elections (Franchise and Representation) Act 2020. Un-convicted prisoners and civil prisoners also have the right to vote by post or proxy.

How to register to vote

To vote people must register in time ahead of an election. The deadline to register to vote in the upcoming local elections in Scotland is 11:59pm on Monday 18 April 2022. People can register online or using a paper form. Voters can either vote in person, by post or, if necessary, by having another person vote on their behalf. National Records of Scotland have noted a 38% rise in the number of people registering to vote by post in Scotland since December 2020. This means that 22.5% of the electorate are now registered to vote by post. Specific provisions are in place for those whose name and address being on the electoral could affect their safety. Voting guides for the upcoming local government elections are available in a range of different languages.

Annie Bosse, SPICe Research