Elements and Components: A UK voting system

What happens during a general election?

26th MarchProrogation – end of a session of Parliament, an announcement is made, with a run of the major bills passed given, and dissolution of the current parliament begins to announce the beginning of the election campaign.

The present MP’s are relieved of their duties and a leave of absence is given; before the results of the general election are announced and the newly elected MP’s move in.

The parties are given a leave of 38 days in which to conduct their campaigns, and make their appeal to voters.

During this time voters are given a deadline by which they must register to vote. Usually this process is now completed online, with the majority of people selecting to vote in person, though a postal vote option is also provided. Following registration voters will then be issued details of their local polling station, where they can go to vote on the day.



Voting day

Polling stations are opened on the  day at 7am, remaining open until 10pm. After, the ballot boxes are sealed, and police will arrive to transport them to the counting stations.

The counting process will then commence immediately and shall continue into the early hours of the next morning, with each Constituency submitting their results, once the count is completed.

News stations will announce the results of each constituency as the results arrive.

By the next morning, once all results have been submitted, an announcement will be made for which party has gained the most seats, and therefore who has won the election.


Win Hands Down

In the UK we used an electoral system referred to as First Past the Post (FTPT). We are divided into 650 constituencies.

jollies new ballot box
“The New Ballot-Box: Jollie’s New Ballot-Box,” Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper IV, no. 100 (October 31, 1857). “The Glass Ballot Box and Political Transparency”

The voters of each constituency are provided with a ballot paper, containing the name of a representative for each of the parties running. Voters will then mark an X next to the individual (party) they are voting for.

The individual with the most votes will then be elected the MP for that constituency and is given a seat in the house of commons.

The party with the majority seats in parliament, once all votes have been counted, then becomes the ruling body of the government.


  • The system is easy to understand and follow
  • Results are easy and speedy to collate
  • Extremist parties are prevented from gaining must ground, as they are unlikely to gain majority votes in a constituency. However at this point, it is not clear if this is a good, or a bad thing



  • The system does not necessarily reflect the public choice. Even if a significant percentile of the population has voted for a party; that party can still end up with no representative in parliament. This is because the percentage that voted for them is split between the constituencies, that could mean that party wins no majority in any constituency. 
  • In 1974 Labour won the election on a minority vote: they won based on the number of seats they gained, however overall, a higher majority of the population had voted for Conservatives
  • This fact makes it harder for smaller parties to compete. It is unlikely for them to gain advantage over those considered larger and their supporters may be spread nationwide. 
  • Due to this fact, the system also encourages tactical voting; again working against smaller parties. Voters are forced into a decision that may not match with their wants. However people feel to vote who they want may be a wasted vote, as it will not be enough to prevent a particular party from winning the majority. Instead people give up their vote to pledge support to the one party who can oppose and prevent the other one from getting in. 
  • This is how we end up in general elections where individuals feel they only really have two choices: Labour or Conservative. 


A Majority Government

In order to win a majority government a party must win more seats than all the other parties combined; meaning they must win more than half of the seats – 326.


If there is no majority….

Then we enter into what is called a Hung Parliament. This is where no one party has collected a majority of seats over all of their opposition.

Only twice has this happened in the history of this voting system in the UK; once in 1974 and again in 2010.

In the case of a hung parliament, parties can either decide to work together to form a majority, or the party with the most votes can decide to lead as a minority government. However if they do this, they must gain majority support on a major vote. If they do not then another general election will be called.

In 2010, Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats made a decision to work together to form a majority government; and entered into a Coalition.


The Five Year Pledge

As a rule a general election must be held every five years, meaning after Thursday, the winning party will govern until 2022; the time of our next scheduled election.

However, as we have witness this year, a general election may be called before this time, if 2/3 of MP’s vote for it.































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