Scottish election 2021: how to vote, where is my nearest polling station - and what are the opening times?

The deadline for registering for a postal vote has now passed but you can still go down to the polls on Scotland’s election day to cast your ballot

Polling stations for the Scottish Parliament election open this Thursday (6 May) after a mainly digital campaign from the respective parties.

While the coronavirus crisis has significantly impacted the Holyrood campaign trail, restrictions will also affect voters on the day.

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But voting in an election can be confusing even in normal times if you don’t know what’s what before you go down to your local polling place.

Your poll card will tell you which polling station to go to cast your ballot (Shutterstock)
Your poll card will tell you which polling station to go to cast your ballot (Shutterstock)

So, how do you vote in the Holyrood election - and how do you find out where your nearest polling station is?

Here is everything you need to know.

Who can register to vote?

Anyone over the age of 16 who lives in Scotland and is registered to vote is eligible to go to the polls on election day.

People who are not permitted to vote are those younger than that age, along with those who have been legally excluded from voting - for example, if they are serving a prison sentence of more than 12 months.

You must be a British or Irish citizen to vote, or a citizen of another country living in Scotland who has permission to enter or stay in the UK, or does not need permission.

All the deadlines for registering to vote have now passed and if you have recently received a poll card you are registered to vote.

What ways can you vote?

In Scotland, there are three ways for people to cast their vote.

It can be done in person at your local polling station, which is often at a community centre or school.

If you can’t get to your polling place, you can send your vote by post - the Scottish Government has been actively encouraging the public to register for postal ballots due to lockdown restrictions.

A record number of people have signed up for a postal ballot for the Holyrood election, with the Electoral Commission announcing on 13 April that more than one million postal votes had been registered.

This means that a huge portion of the final result will have already been cast at the time polling stations open in the country.

You can also nominate someone to vote for you, known as a proxy vote.

New emergency proxy voting rules allow anybody forced to self-isolate because of Covid to nominate another voter up to 5pm on election day.

The rules also allow people to change their chosen proxy voter if they are affected by coronavirus.

When do polling stations open - and where is my nearest?

Voters in Scotland will head to cast their ballots on Thursday 6 May.

Polling stations will be open on that day from 7am to 10pm.

Your poll card, which you should have received if you are registered to vote in the election, will tell you where to go to vote.

If you lose the card, or don’t receive it, you are able to find out where your nearest polling station is using this postcode checker.

You don’t need your poll card to vote or any form of ID, but you do need to vote at your assigned polling station.

What happens on the day?

The Parliament is determined by a process known as the Additional Member System (AMS) and the D’Hondt method of counting is used.

The AMS comprises two elements - a constituency vote and a regional vote - and each voter in Scotland is given two votes.

Through the constituency vote, you choose your preferred candidate for your local constituency.

The regional vote is the second ballot, which is used to elect an “additional” member.

Scotland is divided into eight electoral regions, from South Scotland to the Highlands and Islands, with each area having seven “list” or regional MSPs.

In the regional ballot, you vote for a political party instead of a named individual.

On the day, you will receive two different-coloured ballot papers and will vote once on each.

The lilac ballot will be used to vote for the MSP to represent your constituency, while the peach ballot is for voting for a party or independent candidate to represent your region.

Simply put a cross next to the candidate you wish to vote for on the lilac ballot, and a cross next to the political party or independent candidate you’d like to vote for on the peach ballot.

Will there be Covid measures in place?

Covid safety measures will be in place at polling venues across the country on the day of the vote.

Measures to keep people safe will include one way systems, plastic screens, enhanced cleaning, social distancing and limited numbers within polling stations at any one time.

Face masks will be mandatory, while voters will also be encouraged to bring their own pen or pencil and ensure they are socially-distanced from others at the polling venue.

Wait times could be increased due to queuing outside your polling station, but as long as you’re in the queue to cast your ballot before 10pm you will still be able to vote.