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EU Referendum: What will happen on the day?

Posted on 17 June 2016 by NatCen, Research
Tags: EU, EU Referendum, Europe, European Union, referendum, voting

With only days to go until the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, we outline some of the logistical details of what will happen on Referendum day.

The basics:

The question on the ballot is: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”

Voters will be given the following options:

  • Remain a member of the European Union
  • Leave the European Union

In Wales the question and responses will also be printed in Welsh.

The polling booths will be open from 7am – 10pm on Thursday 23rd June. Anyone who is inside a polling station or queuing outside one when the clock strikes 10pm will still be permitted to cast their vote.

When the polls close all boxes are sealed and transported to the counting venues. Postal votes are also transported to the counting venue in sealed ballot boxes.

When the polls close:

The count will begin as soon as polls close at 10pm on Thursday 23rd June. Polls in Gibraltar will also begin counting at 10pm BST (11pm local time).

As with the Scottish independence referendum, there will not be a television exit poll, so we won’t have any idea of which way the vote has gone until the first local authorities declare their results. It remains to be seen whether Sunderland will retain its title for the fastest count - both Sunderland and Wandsworth expect to declare their results at around 12.30am, with the City of London (12:45am) and Gibraltar (1am) also likely to have quick turnarounds.

The count process:

There are 382 counting areas, comprising each local authority in England and unitary authorities in Scotland and Wales. The count in Northern Ireland will be conducted by parliamentary constituency, and Gibraltar is a single counting area. Each counting area belongs to one of 11 electoral regions, which correspond to those used for the European Parliamentary elections.

Once the ballot boxes arrive, the total number of ballot papers in the ballot boxes will be counted and announced, which will give us an idea of turnout. Then each counting centre will count the total number of Leave, Remain and invalid votes. When all the ballots have been counted, the counting officer at each local counting venue will report this to the Regional Counting Officer, who will give permission for the result to be declared.

The Regional Counting Officer is responsible for collating the local totals in his or her region. Once the regional results are known, this will be reported to the Chief Counting Officer who will give permission for the regional result to be declared.

The Chief Counting Officer, who will be based at the national counting centre at Manchester Town Hall, will collate all the regional totals and, once approved, she will declare the final result. It is likely that this will happen around breakfast time on Friday 24th June. However, the Electoral Commission is expected to announce if one side has an unsurpassable lead (i.e. 50% +1 of the total number of ballot papers less the number of rejected ballot papers), so we could know the result sooner.

Could there be a recount?

There is no provision for recounts to be made at local, regional or national levels. A declared result at local, regional or national level can only be challenged by judicial review.

Undoubtedly the coming week is going to be tense. Recent polls show a swing in favour of Leave, although pollsters and pundits still say it is too close to call.

Analysis and polling information for all of the polls released between now and polling day will be available from

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