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How many polling stations are there in the UK?

A car in use as an emergency polling station in Cambridge, 2024.

Fig. 1: A polling station which has escaped its polling place.

  • The answer you’re probably after is roughly 30,000.

  • The correct answer is roughly 40,000 (but this probably isn’t the answer you’re looking for).

The question

Here at Democracy Club we run the UK’s national polling station finder, in partnership with the Electoral Commission. Each year, we email every UK council which is holding an election, and ask for the list of polling stations they are using. And they send it to us, even though they don’t have to, because electoral administrators are cool like that.

One consequence of this is that we sometimes get emails from journalists and researchers two days before polling day, which go something like:

“Hello, we’re writing a piece for tomorrow and want to know how many polling stations there are and which is the most weird/wonderful/clickbait-y?”

Now obviously there are two questions here. The answer to the second is usually Keith’s Discount Carpets, in Wigston, but, as that’s not in use this year, I’ll plump for the SS Great Britain, in Bristol.

The answer to the first question, however, is tricky. What I tend to do is give an answer which is usually, on reflection, wrong, but in ways which are laborious to explain. So this blog is an attempt to correct these errors, or, at any rate, be definitively wrong.

What is a polling station, anyway?

The British polling station, as any fule kno, dates back to the 1872 Ballot Act. This required each returning officer to split their area into ‘polling districts’; each district was then assigned a ‘polling place’, within which the polling station is situated.

A “polling station” is, in effect, the area under the control of a presiding officer, and there may be several at one polling place; it may be either a separate room or a separate booth, or one or more polling stations may be constructed in the same room or booth. The returning officer will, of course, exercise his discretion according to local circumstances.1

In very simple terms, the polling station is the ballot box/desk, and the polling place is the room it’s in. “How many polling stations are there?” is therefore not the same question as “how many buildings are in use as polling stations?”. The latter is probably what most people think they’re asking when they ask the former.

Answer #1: about 40,000

Each year, the Electoral Commission sends a questionnaire to every electoral services team, asking them for a wide range of data, from how many ballot papers they issued to how many polling stations they used. This data is published on their website.

The data publication is a little inconsistent, but I’ve been able to find polling station numbers for four UK-wide polls:

Country 2015 General Election 2017 General Election 2019 EU Election 2019 General Election
England 31,926 32,175 30,919 31,971
Scotland 4,896 4,574 4,230 4,435
Wales 2,380 2,441 2,399 2,406
Northern Ireland 1,370 1,380 614 1,343
Total United Kingdom 40,572 40,570 38,162 40,155

So, there you have it: there are about 40,000 polling stations per UK-wide election.

But wait! What’s up with the Northern Ireland figure for the 2019 EU poll? Why so low?

Answer #2: about 30,000

What seems to have happened in June 2019 is that the good folks at the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland reported the number of polling places they used, rather than stations. This is confirmed by our own data: in 2022, Northern Ireland gave us a list of 606 unique polling locations for the whole province.

Now, time to come clean: we’ve never had polling station data for every council in a UK-wide poll (though we expect to manage this for the next general election). However, we have had polling stations from every council over the last three local/devolved elections, which gives us a full set to compare with the EC data. Counting unique addresses in these datasets gives us the following:

Nation (year) Unique polling station addresses
England (2024) 25,606
Scotland (2022) 2,514
Wales (2024) 2,132
Northern Ireland (2022) 606
United Kingdom 30,858

The number of polling places in use in the UK is therefore more like 30,000.2 This is the number you’re probably looking for when you ask “how many polling stations are there?”

Polling stations can and do change, and it’s not unknown for councils to use different buildings depending on the poll. As such, the number of stations will fluctuate over time, possibly in line with predicted turnout, which might also explain the lower numbers for the EU vote. I will try to run this comparison again after the next GE and see if it changes - my hunch is that the stations number in the DC data will rise, while the places will remain more-or-less the same, as there will be more ballot boxes in the same places.3

In conclusion

1) The polling station is the desk inside the polling place.
2) There are about 40,000 stations.
3) The polling place is the building/area the station is in.
4) There are about 30,000 polling places.
5) The first is the correct answer, the second is probably the more useful.
6) Hurrah for electoral administrators.


Image: Cambridge Electoral Services.

  1. G.A.R. Fitzgerald, The Ballot Act, 1872 (Stevens and Sons, 1876), pp. 23-24. 

  2. By this point it should be clear that all of these numbers should be taken with a pinch of salt; the Electoral Commission figures are provided by tired council employees just before they leave for their holidays, while the Democracy Club numbers are produced by me doing a COUNTUNIQUE query on a big spreadsheet at 20:32 the night before polling day. 

  3. Wait a minute, this isn’t definitive at all, is it? 

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