Elections and Referenda


Elections are a democratic process conducted strictly in accordance with statutory criteria. All elections are conducted within a statutory timetable, which will be published at the time the election is called. The Returning Officer who is appointed by the council is responsible for the conduct of elections and referenda held within the city boundary; these include but are not limited to:

Parliamentary election – must be held within five years

There are three parliamentary constituencies within the city boundary. Southampton Itchen, Southampton Test and Romsey and Southampton North. Some constituencies cross the city’s boundary into other areas. Members of Parliament (MPs) are elected to Parliament for a five year period. However, the Government may hold the parliamentary election at any time within the five year period, upon dissolution of Parliament. There is one MP per constituency.

Local city council election – three years out of every four

There are 17 wards in Southampton, each represented by three councillors. Elections in Southampton are by thirds, and are traditionally held on the first Thursday in May. Councillors are elected for a four-year term and one councillor per ward retires each year, there are no elections in the fourth year.

By-election – when required

If an elected member is no longer available to represent the electorate, a by-election can be called at any time for all types of election. The statutory time table for by-elections is the same as the timetable used for the relevant main election. This will be published at the time an election is called.

By-elections can be called for various reasons including:

  • Death of a councillor
  • Councillor moving out of the area
  • Councillor's change of employment

Regional elections

Regional elections cover more than one local authority area, for example Police and Crime Commissioner elections. The governing body in charge of conducting these elections across the UK appoint Regional or Area Returning Officers.

In recent years, the Returning Officer for Southampton City Council has also been appointed as the relevant election Regional/Area Returning Officer.


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A referendum is a direct vote in which an entire electorate of an area is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal. This may be the adoption of a new constitution, a constitutional amendment, a law, the recall of an elected official or simply a specific government policy. The referendum is a form of direct democracy and is governed by The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.

The city council or central Government can organise referenda on a variety of issues. The last national referendum was in 2016 when the government tested the country’s view on UK membership of the European Union.

A referendum can be called if a petition is submitted to the local authority containing the signatures of 5% of electorate in the council’s Register of Electors having effect on 15 February in any given year.

Referendum publication of verification number notice.


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