This question is primarily regarding the situation in the UK but I suppose it applies abroad.

It states on the home office website that providing you have not been found guilty of a crime you still have the right to vote (which makes sense, innocent until proven guilty etc).

In that case, if you get taken in to police custody on election day, how can you exercise your right to vote? Is there a polling station in all jails?

  • It seems to me the right to move freely is even more important.
    – Relaxed
    Mar 23, 2015 at 23:10
  • 2
    If I have an all-day meeting, or am sick in the hospital, or my car broke down on the way to the poll station - I don't loose my right to vote. The government didn't pass any law prohibiting me from voting. I could have voted by mail earlier. Being jailed on election day seems to fall into the same bucket. Yes, you have the right - but not necessarily the opportunity
    – user4012
    Mar 24, 2015 at 20:54
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    Those things are within your control or for medical reasons it looks like you can register for an emergency proxy vote. Further, if someone else (police or not) is interfering with your opportunity to vote then that sounds like a restriction on your right to vote. If I physically block someone from voting, that is illegal, I fail to see how the fact it is the police doing it changes that.
    – T. Kiley
    Mar 24, 2015 at 22:09
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    @DVK On the other hand, in those cases it's not the government's fault you couldn't make it to the polls. If the police arrest you (which doesn't mean you've done anything wrong), then it's the government blocking you from voting, which I can easily imagine would be treated differently than you deciding to stay in a meeting all day. It's not illegal to leave a meeting to vote (and I'm not sure it could even get you fired in the UK); it's a crime to break out of police custody to vote. Absentee ballots don't solve it, because you can't reasonably be expected to plan to be arrested.
    – cpast
    Mar 25, 2015 at 3:21
  • @T.Kiley That's a great analogy, inspired me to develop my comment into a full answer.
    – Relaxed
    Mar 25, 2015 at 16:29

1 Answer 1


(Extending my comment to a proper answer) Police custody is, in and of itself, a severe restriction on your freedom. It effectively prevents you from exercising many of your rights, including moving freely, worshipping, talking to whomever you like, etc. That's why, in many countries, it should in principle only happen when it cannot be avoided and only to the extent necessary to attain a limited number of goals explicitly named in statutes (like solving a crime that just happened). That's also why there are procedural rules to follow for the police.

But even within these limits, being held by the police does still undeniably impinge on your fundamental rights, first and foremost the right to come and go as you wish, even though you have not been found guilty of a crime. To the extent that giving this power to the police is deemed appropriate, preventing someone from voting does not seem especially problematic.

Similarly, holding someone against their will is illegal but the police has the right to do it. Basically, in all societies, there is a trade-off between individual freedoms and the public's interest in giving the police the means to enforce the law. We can be dissatisfied about the way the police in a given country uses its prerogatives but the fact is that it can do something like that everywhere.

Also, in many countries (I don't know about the UK), the detention conditions are rather poor and often could be considered a threat to basic human dignity. In a different context, people can also be detained for extended periods of time, not as a punishment or as a result of being found guilty of a crime, but for the purpose of removing them from the country. So our tolerance for restrictions on other people's fundamental rights for the sake of enforcing the laws seem to be quite high and practical difficulties in casting one's vote probably do not rank very high on the list.

  • Clearly there is a balance to be struck between the police being able to enforce the law and personal freedoms. However, normally taking someone in to custody, due to laws limiting the time they can be held without charge, gives the police relatively little actual power (just the power to irritate, and if they abused this on a large scale there would quickly be a backlash). However, rounding up a bunch of people on election day would be very powerful.
    – T. Kiley
    Mar 25, 2015 at 23:12
  • Further, in the UK we are currently being taken to court by the EU for denying convicted prisoners the vote. Surely if that is considered an infringement on rights above and beyond the amount allowed under the law for criminals, certainly denying non-convicted people the vote is much worse.
    – T. Kiley
    Mar 25, 2015 at 23:13
  • @T.Kiley Indeed, the restriction on the time the police can held someone is key here. But any way you cut it, the restriction on freedom still seems more significant. If it is acceptable to hold someone (precisely because it's only for a short time) then surely whether that prevents that person from voting or from doing any of the other things he or she has the right to does not make a big difference.
    – Relaxed
    Mar 26, 2015 at 1:23
  • @T.Kiley - convicted people are denied the right to vote. Legislatively. Detained people still have the right to vote (e.g. they could have voted by mail a day earlier, or if the detention allows sending mail, even from detention place), merely the opportunity. They two aren't in any way equivalent. Also, are there any rules preventing a detained person from voting (meaning, if the bobbies decide they are willing and able to escort a detained person to a polling station, would they be legally prevented from doing so?)
    – user4012
    Mar 26, 2015 at 13:25
  • @DVK Convicts aren't denied the right to vote everywhere (it might even be a peculiarly US thing). In Europe, being deprived of the right to vote is typically an additional punishment that is only imposed for offenses related in some way with the political process (like misappropriating public funds, electoral fraud, etc.) There are procedures in place to allow detainees to vote. Voting by mail isn't possible everywhere either.
    – Relaxed
    Mar 26, 2015 at 13:53

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