The electoral timetable and holding of elections
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2.7Elections of Members of the House of Commons are held by returning officers in obedience to the Queen's writ out of Chancery. The statutory provisions which determine who are the returning officers for England and Wales, for Scotland and for Northern Ireland are to be found in the Representation of the People Act 1983, ss 24–26.
At a general election, all polls must be held on one day. The timetable for elections is contained in the Representation of the People Act 1983, sch 1, as amended by the Representation of the People Act 1985, the Electoral Administration Act 2006, s 20, the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013, s 14 and the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022, s 5.1
For a by-election, the returning officer must give notice of the election not later than 4 pm on the second day after that on which the writ is received (Day 3). Nomination papers are delivered (between 10 am and 4 pm) on any day after the date of publication of the notice of election until a day fixed by the returning officer which must be not earlier than the third day after the date of publication of the notice of election (Day 6) nor later than the seventh day after that on which the writ is received (Day 8). The poll takes place on such day as the returning officer may appoint, not being earlier than the 17th, nor later than the 19th day after the last day for delivery of nomination papers. The poll therefore generally takes place between Day 21 and 27, depending on the day fixed as the last for the delivery of nomination papers. In practice, the period is normally towards the shorter end of that range. While there is no statutory provision providing for the cancellation of a by-election when a general election is in progress, it is usual to do this (see para 2.12 below).2
In reckoning time for all election proceedings, Saturdays, Sundays, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Good Friday and other Bank Holidays, and days appointed for public thanksgiving or mourning, are to be disregarded. Maundy Thursday was removed from this list in the Electoral Administration Act 2006, s 20.
In the event of the death of a candidate after the publication of the statement of those nominated as candidates, the Representation of the People Act 1983, sch 1, provides for the returning officer to countermand the notice of the poll or, if polling has begun, to direct that it be abandoned; thereafter proceedings start afresh as if the writ had been received seven days after the day on which proof of the death was given to the returning officer. Separate provisions apply where an independent candidate dies after nomination, or where the Speaker seeking re-election dies after nomination.3
- 1. See sch 1 to the Representation of the People Act 1983.
- 2. Conference on Electoral Law: letter dated 26 November 1973 from Mr Speaker to the Prime Minister, Cmnd 5500, but see para 2.12.
- 3. Representation of the People Act 1983, sch 1, rr 60–65, as amended by the Electoral Administration Act 2006, s 24. See CJ (2005–06) 82 and ibid (2010–12, Part I) 20 for the last occasions of a Member taking the oath after such a deferred election.