A beginner’s guide to General Elections
Part 3: How to vote
On 8 June 2017, there will be a General Election in the UK. If you’ve never voted before, or you have questions about it, these posts are for you.
This is the last post in our series. We’ve looked at why the election is happening and how you can find out more about the people you are voting for.
Now let’s go through the actual steps of casting your vote.
I’ve never voted before
Break out the confetti and dance a jig: now’s your chance to change the world! And we’re not just saying that: if you haven’t voted before, and you are going to this time around, you could have a genuine effect.
Here are the figures to prove it: in the last General Election, only 66.1% of people who had registered to vote actually did so.
It’s safe to say that the other 33.9% have the power to change the predicted outcome dramatically, if they use their vote — and that’s before we even consider the people who hadn’t registered in 2015 but might do this time.
It’s estimated that only about 85% of people who can register to vote actually have, and young people are much less likely to have registered. So get to it, and get your friends and family to do the same. Register here.
When do I vote?
The General Election is on Thursday 8 June. On this date you can go to a polling station and vote.
Some areas have also just had local elections, but don’t worry, you haven’t missed the main event! Those were to select councillors, and in some areas, mayors.
Voting in other ways
If you can’t, or don’t want to go to your polling station, you can apply for a postal vote. You must do this before May 23.
There is also the option of nominating someone else to vote on your behalf, which is known as voting by proxy. While you don’t have to give a reason for wanting to vote by post, voting by proxy is only allowed if you are unable to vote yourself because you have a medical issue or disability, will be working, away from home, or will be doing military service on the day of the election. You can apply here and your form must be in by May 31.
Where do I vote?
In a polling station
Voting takes place in polling stations: these are usually places such as school halls, community centres and churches which are opened for the day.
Every registered voter should get a polling card through the post to tell them where their polling station is — it’ll usually be the one nearest to your home. You can’t just pop into any polling station: it has to be the one on your card, as that’s where they have your records.
If you haven’t received your card, or have lost it, you can generally find the information on your local council website near voting day, or try WhereDoIVote.co.uk.
Yes, but which town?
If you are a student who lives at home during the holidays but in a different town during term time, you can register at both your addresses.
However, you can only vote once in a General Election, so no sneaky daytrips home to vote in two places and maximise your chosen party’s chances! If it were a local election you could actually vote once in your hometown and once in your university town, as those count as two different elections, but in a General Election everyone is participating in the same vote, and voting more than once is illegal.
What do I need to take?
You don’t have to take anything at all — you don’t even need any form of ID, so long as you can tell the attendants your name and address. Taking your polling card with you might speed up the process a wee bit, but it’s not vital.
Everything you need to vote is already at the polling station: a ballot paper and a pencil. You may have heard a rumour that you should take a pen to vote with, because pencil marks can be rubbed out. There’s nothing to stop you doing this, but security and oversight over the whole voting process are pretty tight, so it’s really not necessary.
How do I vote?
Once you’ve confirmed your name and address, you’ll be given a ‘ballot’ (voting slip) by an attendant. You take this into one of the booths — usually just temporary partitions that are set up to give you privacy, with a small shelf as a table — and mark a cross next to the name of the person you want to vote for.
If you make a mistake, don’t worry: just tell the attendant and they will give you a new ballot.
Once you’ve finished, you fold your ballot and post it into a locked ballot box. At the end of the day this will be transported, along with all the other boxes in the area, to the counting venue.
Is there anything I mustn’t do?
There’s one rule that you might break without even thinking about it, especially if you’re a keen Instagrammer or tweeter: you mustn’t take a photo of your voting slip and share it on social media.
This would contravene the ‘secrecy of the ballot’ which, by law, prevents anyone from sharing information from inside a polling station.
Read more about other dos and don’ts in this piece from the BBC.
You might see party ‘tellers’ asking for your voting number outside the polling station. This is so that they can check against their own list of who’s previously shown support for their party (eg by joining it, donating to it or chatting on the doorstep). Towards the end of the day, they may go and remind any supporters who haven’t yet voted to do so.
They’re not part of the official voting process and you don’t have to tell them anything if you don’t want to.
- Decide whether you need a proxy vote or a postal vote, and if so, apply for them
- Find out where your polling station is, with WhereDoIVote.co.uk
- Put 8 June in your calendar (or just rely on the TV, Facebook, newspapers and all your friends reminding you on the day!)
When are the results announced?
Vote counting begins as soon as the polling stations close at 10pm and the ballot boxes are taken to the counting venue; counting continues overnight and the nation will generally be informed of the broad-stroke results in the early hours of the morning. Finer detail comes later that day.
As results come in constituency by constituency, you’ll see them on TV, radio and news websites. The overall winner is generally announced as soon as it’s clear that one party has won so many seats that it can’t be overtaken.
What if I don’t like the way things have gone?
No matter which way the country votes, there will always be some people who are unhappy.
It may sound like small consolation now, but the best thing you can do is join your preferred party and find out how you can work to ensure that they get a better share of the vote in the next election (or, if you think the ‘first past the post’ system means your party will never have a chance, join the campaign for proportional representation).
But whichever party your MP is in, they now represent you, so there’s no harm in making contact and seeing if you can find some common ground — or if you can persuade them on the issues that matter to you.
When can I contact my new MP?
It’s expected that Parliament will start up again on June 13, with MPs swearing in over the next few days and then the official state opening on June 19.
If your constituency has a completely new MP, they will need a little time to get settled in before they can start replying to mail: they’ll be taking their office in the Houses of Parliament, hiring staff, getting a new email address and learning the parliamentary ropes for at least a couple of weeks. Sure, you can contact them right away, but don’t expect a reply immediately.
Returning MPs have everything in place from last time, so they’re sure to be up and running a little more quickly.
Fortunately we run a website that makes it very easy for anyone to contact their MP: find it at WriteToThem.com.
How can I make sure my new MP is doing a good job?
Now that you’re so knowledgeable about the electoral process, hopefully you want to keep making sure that your elected MP is actually working for you and your constituency.
There are some really easy ways of checking up on exactly how well they are working: you can do it in just a few minutes a month.
See how your MP is voting Our website TheyWorkForYou.com makes it really easy to check how your MP has voted on key issues like the NHS, the environment, or LGBTQ rights.
Get alerts when they speak TheyWorkForYou.com also lets you sign up so you get an email every time your MP speaks in Parliament. Or you can sign up to get an alert whenever your chosen word or phrase is mentioned by anyone. You could subscribe to see when your hometown is mentioned, for example, or topics like Brexit.
Subscribe to your MP’s newsletter MPs usually send out regular messages to constituents to keep them up to date. You don’t have to support your MP to be on their mailing list.
Follow them on social media If you don’t like email, this is a lower-effort way to stay informed.
Want to know more about keeping your MP working for you? See our beginners’ guide to getting your voice heard.
We hope you feel that you now know enough to go and vote — and to make sure your MP is doing the right thing once the election’s over. If you’ve learned something new, why not share these three posts with friends and family so that they can do the same?
And here’s a handy checklist so you make sure you do everything by the right date.
Links to find out more
The charity that wrote this guide: mySociety
Your Vote Matters: Everything you need to know about voting in the UK
Every Vote Counts: How politics works
UK Parliament: How elections work
UK Parliament: General Election timetable
UK Political Info: Voter turnout levels since 1945
Electoral Commission: Easy guide to how votes are counted
Electoral Commission: Guidelines for Returning Officers (the people who count the votes)
Electoral Commission: Report on the number of people registered to vote across the UK
Wyre Forest District Council: Step by step pictorial guide to voting
The Telegraph: Who is standing in 2017?
iNews: What each party stands for
SwapMyVote: Trade your vote for one in a constituency where it will have more power