Election 2006 In Depth

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Guide to voting


This guide explains how voting works in the UK's general and local elections.

General elections to choose who sits in the House of Commons usually take place every four or five years, on a date chosen by the prime minister.

Local elections for councillors to sit on town, city and borough councils are held more frequently. Sometimes voters elect a third or half of their councillors, other times they elect them all. Occasionally votes are cast for mayors as well.

There are many other elections in the UK, including those for the European Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, Northern Ireland Assembly, and parish councils. In some of these, the voting procedure may be similar to general and local elections but with key differences in, for example, the way votes are counted.

Voting in UK elections is a democratic right but it is not compulsory, although for general and local elections you do have to be:

  • Aged 18 or over
  • On the electoral register
  • A British, Irish, Commonwealth or European Union citizen

You cannot vote in general or local elections if you are:

  • A foreign national (unless an Irish, Commonwealth or European Union citizen)
  • A convicted prisoner in custody
  • Disqualified because of a previous electoral offence
A town hall
In some councils, only a portion of seats may be contested each year

MPs in the House of Commons
In the House of Commons one MP represents each constituency

MEPs in the European Parliament
In European elections voters select a list of candidates, not individuals


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