SOMERSET voters will go to the polls on May 2 to elect their new district councillors, who will represent them and make decisions on their behalf for the next four years.

We’re all used to how general election results work – and many of us have stayed up to watch the results come in overnight.

But while they are subject to the same stringent rules, local elections don’t work in the quite the same way – and you may have to wait a little longer to get the results.

Here’s our guide to when you can expect to find out who is representing you:

What happens when the polling stations close?

All polling stations across Somerset will close at 10pm on May 2.

If you are in the queue outside the polling station at this time, you will still be able to vote – but try not to leave it until the last minute.

After the polling stations close, all ballot boxes will be transported to the location where the count is taking place, where they will be verified.

What happens during verification?

Once all the ballot papers have arrived at the counting venue, staff will count all the ballot papers up – including postal votes – to ensure the number of papers cast matches up with the number that was issued.

This is to make sure no-one has tried to vote more than once, and to ensure no ballot papers have been lost either at the polling station or in transit.

Postal votes can be counted days before polling day, but the results will not be published until the full count has taken place.

When will the votes be counted?

Once the verification is completed, the ballot papers are sorted out by candidate and the count can then start.

However, only one of the districts – Somerset West and Taunton Council (SWAT) – will be doing so straight away.

This council will begin counting at 1am, with the first ward being declared at around 2am and the full results being expected by 7am.

In the other three districts – Mendip, Sedgemoor and South Somerset – the count will begin at 10am the following day, with the results being announced by mid-afternoon.

In all cases, votes for district council wards will be counted first, with towns and parishes (where they are being contested) being done later in the day.

What happens to spoiled ballots?

A spoilt ballot is one which has been filled out incorrectly, either by accident or on purpose (i.e. as a protest against one or all of the candidates in a given area).

Ways a ballot paper can be spoiled include: putting more than one cross in a box, putting your name or other identifying information on it, ranking the candidates in order of preference, and writing a message intended for the candidates.

Once the verification has taken place, the ballot papers will be sorted by candidate, with any suspected spoilt ballots being put to one side.

Every candidate for that ward will then have to look at these ballots, in the presence of the returning officer in charge of the count, and agree that these should not be counted towards their total.

These ballots are then sealed separately, with the number being announced by the returning officer when the appropriate result is declared.

How long will it take to count my seat?

Nobody knows – because there are so many factors in play, including:

The number of ballot papers cast (i.e. a low turnout means a quick count)

The number of staff who are doing the counting (which will determine whether multiple wards can be counted at the same time)

The number of spoilt ballots which need to be queried

Whether any of the candidates request a recount (which may happen if the result is looking close).

When the count for a given ward has finished, the returning officer will share the provisional result with the candidates and their agents. They can request a recount at this point, but the returning officer can choose not to allow this (e.g. if there is a clear victory for one candidate, a recount done at the behest of another would be a waste of time).

Each Somerset council has a different number of wards – Mendip has 47, Sedgemoor 48, SWAT 59 and South Somerset 60 – so where counts are taking place simultaneously those with fewer wards may declare faster.

What happens when all the votes have been counted?

When all the votes have been counted for a given ward, and the provisional result has been shared with those standing, the returning office will announce the result to the public.

This typically takes the form of all candidates taking to a stage with the officer, who will read out the number of votes cast for each individual, as well as the number of spoilt ballots.

After this, the candidates will typically make a short speech, starting with those who were successfully elected.

How do I find out the results?

Members of the public cannot attend the counts unless they apply for accreditation from their local authority.

The councils will publish each individual result on their respective Twitter feeds – so if you want to stay up overnight for the SWAT results, you can get them that way.