Northern Ireland Assembly election 2016: Voters urged not to spoil ballot papers as polls open
Voters are going to the polls across Northern Ireland today to elect the next Assembly.
The 619 polling stations open at 7am and will close at 10pm, atlhough anyone arriving before that time who is still waiting by 10pm will be able to cast their vote.
Counting will then begin tomorrow and is expected to continue into Saturday before all 108 MLAs - out of 276 candidates - are deemed elected.
Unlike last year's first-past-the-post system General Election, the Assembly is elected by proportional representation which allows voters to rank as many candidates on the ballot paper as they want.
But in the last Assembly election there were more than 12,000 ballot papers which had to be rejected as "spoilt" - many because the more complex system was misused.
Chief electoral officer Graham Shields has appealed to people to ensure their votes are counted.
"At the last Northern Ireland Assembly election in 2011 over 12,000 ballot papers were rejected as spoilt," he said.
"To ensure that your vote is counted remember to rank your candidates in order of preference by placing a '1' next to your first choice candidate, a '2' next to your second choice candidate and so on.
"You can vote for as few or as many candidates as you wish. If you place any other mark on the ballot paper it may not be counted. You can ask staff at the polling station if you need advice on the voting process and how to mark your ballot paper."
People were also being reminded they don't need polling cards to vote, but it can "speed up the process".
And they were advised not to forget their photo ID. You can't vote without it - and it can still be used even if it has expired.
Electoral Commission head Ann Watt said: "This year's elections are an opportunity for voters to have their say, and we don't want anyone to miss out because they didn't know what to expect on polling day.
"That's why it's important to remember to bring a correct form of photo ID with you to the polling station. Without it you won't be given a ballot paper."
ID documents which can be used include driving licence, passport or SmartPass.