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Elections & Voting Explained

Elections & Voting Explained banner

How does voting happen in a UK General Election?

Voting takes place at polling stations, each covering up to about 2000 voters between 7am and 10pm.

Voters can also vote by post.  This was previously only if people were away on the day or too infirm to get to the polling station but now anyone can apply.

The typical pattern of campaigning in the past was for the parties to canvass voters in the three or four weeks of the campaign to find out where their supporters were and call on them on the day, with party tellers on the polling stations collecting information on who had voted.

The large number of postal votes means that these are now issued at the beginning of the campaign and so many people will have voted long before election day.

With a decline in loyalty to the parties among voters, the parties, in any case, have to spend more time trying to convince voters to support them and this now takes place over a longer period with voter contact, letters targeted at particular voters and so on. Now, organisation on election day is still significant but less important than it was.

After the polling stations close

The boxes of votes are taken after 10pm to a central hall where staff employed by the local council first check that the number of voting papers are the same as the recorded number voting at all the polling stations.

The votes for each candidate are then sorted into bundles and, after any papers not marked clearly with a cross have been checked to decide whether they are still valid, the winning candidate is announced by the Returning Officer.

Before this, if the vote is very close, the second candidate may ask for papers to be recounted.


Turnout is the proportion of people registered who vote in an election, either at the polling station or by post.

Not all people are registered and so turnout is not the proportion of the whole adult population who have voted.  Turnout varies according to the type of election

The reasons for falling turnout may be:-

        A decline in interest in politics and less feeling that voting is a civic duty

        The decline in identification with the two main parties that has been demonstrated in surveys so that voters do not turn out to support a party out of traditional loyalty.

        A feeling that there is less difference between the parties in terms of policies and so less is at stake in an election

        One party may be well ahead in the opinion polls before an election and so there is less interest in that particular election.