On the 7th of May, we will be invited to vote in the General Election.
Traditionally, this ritual has involved visiting a local polling station, which may be a school or church hall. But this isn’t the only option, thanks to postal voting.
You don’t have to live in the wilds to benefit from postal voting. It’s an option for anyone from the Orkneys, off Scotland, to Orpington, in London – providing you are entitled to vote.
How postal voting works
If you live in England, Scotland or Wales you can vote by Royal Mail. All you need to do is download the postal vote application form, print it, sign it and ensure you send it to your local electoral registration office 12 working days before the poll (by Friday April 24).
If you live in Northern Ireland you must meet certain criteria to be eligible to vote by post. The Electoral Office of Northern Ireland has the necessary voting details.
If you have applied for a postal vote, you will receive a ballot paper through the post, within four days of the election.
If it doesn’t arrive you can contact the Returning Officer at your local council for a replacement – although you’d need to do so before 5pm on polling day.
Tips on voting
The Electoral Commission recommends you vote yourself, rather than rely on another person to pass on your preference for the next government. Likewise, you should not let anyone see you vote, so they can’t try to influence you. If you are voting by post, ensure you seal the envelope and put it in the post box.
If you are unable to post your vote, entrust it to a reliable friend, relative or neighbour.
If anyone pressurises you into voting one way or another, report the matter to the police.
Ten facts about the General Election
- When Parliament is dissolved, all MPs lose their job and must lobby their constituent to be returned to Westminster.
- There are 646 seats up for grabs in the General Election, covering England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The candidate who wins the most votes gets to represent their local community in the Commons.
- MPs represent their local constituents, but also reflect the policies of their parliamentary party, the three biggest being the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
- General Elections can be held on any day of the week, although they typically take place on a Thursday. In fact, 27 October 1931 was the last time one didn’t, as it was a Tuesday.
- A total of 44 million people can vote in the General Election.
- The Isle of Wight is biggest constituency in the UK, with 108,000 potential voters. The smallest is the Western Isles with 21,800 voters.
- The first General Election was held in 1802, Henry Addington, the 1st Viscount Sidmouth was the victor, beating Lord Grenville and William Pitt the Younger.
- Most General Elections result in the ruling party achieving less than 40% of the vote.
- A General Election must take place at least every five years, although the period can be far less.
- Winston Churchill contested the most General Elections, winning 14 of 16 between 1900 and 1959.