By Joshua Dowding
As I’m sure you know by now, another general election is upon us. Though it seems like an eternity since we last went to the polls, on December 12th the country will be asked once again to decide it’s future. Some pundits have already branded it as the ‘Brexit Election’, but I feel it’s important to consider some of the wider issues facing the country now, and in the near future. There’s a whole lot more going on in the world right now: climate change, the ongoing refugee crisis, and the rise of the political fringes just to name a few. Of course you should consider Brexit, of course some of these issues bleed into the Brexit debate, but try not to make this election all about one issue. Cast your vote based on a whole range of issues that are important to you, and don’t follow the pack. This is your opportunity to make your voice heard.
What’s at stake?
Every constituency in the country is up for grabs in the upcoming general election. There are 650 constituencies in the United Kingdom, each representing between 56,000 and 72,000 constituency members (depending on where you live), and a single seat in the House of Commons.
How does an election work?
The name of the game is to get a majority, and for any one party to gain a majority, 326 members of that party must first be elected to the House of Commons. Each party tries to field a candidate for each constituency, though sometimes a party may not field a candidate for a particular constituency due to a pact they’ve made with another party, or because they just don’t have enough candidates.
With the first-past-the-post voting system we have in the United Kingdom, the candidate with the most votes wins the constituency, and thus a seat in parliament. However, that candidate may only secure 39% of the total votes cast with the other candidates securing the remaining 61% of votes. What counts is that each of those remaining candidates did not secure more votes than the victor despite amassing more votes than they did in total. For better or worse, the current system favours the person with the 39% mandate, over the people with the 61% lead. To combat this system, you might want to research into ‘tactical voting’. I’ll leave that up to you.
At a national level, the party with the most elected members, or MPs, wins the election. However, since the name of the game is to get a majority, the party with the most elected MPs may still lose out on a commanding position in parliament by failing to gain that majority. This is referred to as a ‘hung parliament’ where no one party has a majority in the House of Commons. At this point, the party with the most elected MPs must try to form a government by either partnering with another party or by forming a ‘minority government’. The former may (I stress ‘may’) prove beneficial if the winning party can find another with similar political views, whereas the latter would mean that the government might find it difficult to pass their legislation due to a lack of a majority in the House.
In advance of the election, each party will release its manifesto outlining what they intend to do should they win the majority – at least in theory. And while it’s easy to dismiss them, they do provide some insight into the party’s priorities and leanings. So they might be worth a skim at least.
It’s important to remember that voters do not elect the Prime Minister themselves. The person that’ll become the PM is either the current leader of the party that wins, or the leaders of the parties that enter into a coalition, or they’re elected by the parties themselves (sometimes after-the-fact).
How do I know if I’m eligible to vote?
It’s not enough to be 18 and over to vote in UK general elections. Voters will also need to be a registered British citizen with a residential address somewhere in the United Kingdom, or – for those living abroad – must have previously registered to vote within the past 15 years. Qualifying citizens of the Commonwealth, the Republic of Ireland (especially if they were born in Northern Ireland), Cyprus, or Malta, may also be eligible to vote as well. However, EU citizens living in the UK on a permit will not be allowed to vote in the upcoming election at all. Again, make of that what you will.
Prospective voters aged between 16 and 17 may also register to vote, though they will not be able to participate in this upcoming election unless parliament decides to extend the franchise to those people. EU citizens are in a similar situation here.
How do I get involved?
You can vote in one of three ways: in-person, by post, or by proxy. Regardless of which you choose, you will first need to register to vote.
To register to vote, follow this link. The deadline is midnight on Tuesday, November 26th. It takes a few minutes at most, but don’t leave it until the last minute! It will take some time for your name to be added to the electoral register once you’ve registered.
To apply to vote by post, follow this link. The deadline date is the same as registration, but the time is slightly earlier at 5 PM. Voters in Northern Ireland can also apply to vote by post, though you’ll need to provide a reason as to why you cannot vote in person in your case.
To apply to vote by proxy, follow this link. The deadline for applications is the same as voting by post.
If you intend to vote by post, or by proxy, you will need to make a separate application in addition to your electoral registration. These applications must be made in-time – any applications received after the deadline will be rejected even if it was the fault of the postal service that it wasn’t received in time.
How does ‘in-person’ voting work?
Voting takes place at designated polling stations. Before the election, voters will receive a polling card telling you which station you are registered to vote at. These stations open at 7 AM on the day (December 12th), and remain open until 10 PM. After that, the station will close to the public.
When you arrive at a polling station, the ballot officer will ask you for your name and address so that they can find you on the electoral register. Be sure to have some form of identification on you just in case you’re asked for it. Then you will be given a ballot paper and shown to a polling booth. You are expected to put a cross in the box next to the name of the candidate you wish to vote for. Putting a tick, a circle, or anything else in that box will spoil your vote. Once you’ve finished, fold the ballot paper in half, exit the polling booth and drop the paper into the ballot box. That’s it, you’re done.
The results are declared through the night as each constituency office counts its votes. The count might spill into the following morning depending on how quickly each constituency declares it’s results, and whether there are any recounts.
How does voting by post or proxy work?
If you intend to vote by post, providing that you’ve registered to do so, you will receive your ballot paper in the mail close to the date of the general election. You must fill in the ballot paper as you would at a polling station, and return it in the envelope provided. If you think your postal vote won’t make it in time, you can take the sealed letter to your local polling station instead.
Voting by proxy means that you’d like someone else to vote on your behalf in your absence. Your proxy would vote as normal, though they would receive two ballot papers instead of one. Your proxy of choice must be trustworthy and registered to vote themselves.
Should I get involved?
Yes, absolutely. Every vote counts, literally. It’s a numbers game after all. One vote could make all the difference – that could be your vote. After all, voting is anonymous, so as long as you don’t tell anyone, no one will find out which way you voted. Nobody needs to know.
Lastly, there’s been a lot of talk about the ‘two-party system’ as of late. According to the BBC, every election since 1922 has been won by either the Labour party or the Conservative party. But in the years since the infamous 2016 EU referendum, a number of alternative parties have sprung up in an attempt to disrupt this system. Together with some of the smaller established parties, a credible force could be brewing here to take on the two-party system for the first time in nearly a century. Could be worth a look? I’ll leave it to you.
For more information on how to vote – especially if you’re voting from abroad – follow this link to the official government website. Register to vote; make your voice heard!
‘General election 2019: A really simple guide’ (BBC – 1/11/19)
‘General election 2019: How political parties choose election candidates’ (BBC – 10/11/19)
‘Register to vote’ (gov.uk)
‘How to vote’ (gov.uk)
‘Minority government’ (parliament.uk)
Image By Steve Houghton-Burnett (Unsplash)