UK Politics

Could pens join pencils in voting booths for UK elections?

a pencil with an EU referendum ballot paper Image copyright Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

People could get the choice of a pen as well as a pencil when they go to vote, after fraud fears at the EU referendum.

The Electoral Commission received "almost 200 calls" from voters worried about using a pencil on 23 June.

Lib Dem Lord Rennard has asked the government if it would provide "special ballot pens" instead of pencils.

And the Electoral Commission says it is looking at "alternatives to providing pencils for voters in polling stations which could improve confidence".

The issue of using pencils to vote became an issue on social media for people voting in June's referendum who feared ballot papers filled out in pencil could be rubbed out and changed, leading the hashtag #usepens to gain traction on Twitter.

Image copyright Twitter
Image caption The debate over pens and pencils led to some joking online.

Lord Rennard asked the government for its assessment of voter concerns about using pencils instead of pens to mark ballot papers. He also asked whether the government was planning to provide polling stations with "special ballot pens or pencils with indelible ink".

Cabinet Office spokeswoman in the Lords, Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen, responded saying "voters were able to use the pencil provided, or mark their ballot paper with a pen if they preferred - we are not aware of any cases of ballot papers being changed at the referendum".

She added that the government had "noted the Electoral Commission's comments on this issue in its report on the EU referendum".

That Electoral Commission report into the EU referendum says that voters are able to use either a pen or pencil to mark their ballot paper, and that "there is nothing in law which states whether a pen or a pencil should be used to mark a ballot paper."

The report also says that the Commission would be working with returning officers and national governments to see "whether there could be alternatives to providing pencils for voters in polling stations which could improve confidence."

An Electoral Commission spokesman said that historically pencils were used for practical reasons, as pens carry the risk that "they may dry out or spill".

Wet ink might also smudge on to the other side of a folded ballot paper, leading to the risk that votes could be rejected if it looks like more than one box has been marked, he added.