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20 October 2014
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Local Democracy
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Rights & Responsibilities


Local Democracy

  • Voting
  • First-past-the-post and the Alternative Vote
  • Other voting systems
  • Who cannot vote
  • Community Action


    Government & Parliament

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    The Basics | More Information | Web Links
    Who can vote in United Kingdom elections?

    • British citizens aged 18 or over;
    • Citizens of the Irish Republic and Commonwealth countries who are aged 18 or over and meet certain residency requirements.

    Why is voting important?

    Ballot Box
    "The ballot is stronger than the bullet."
    Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

    Voting is important because for the vast majority of people, voting is the main way they can influence decisions about how the country is run.

    Why do we vote?


    Roughly every five years in the UK we decide which candidate we would like to represent us at Parliament in the House of Commons.

    We do this through voting in an election.

    The House of Commons has 659 Members of Parliament (MPs) and each MP represents its own constituency.

    Parliament is made up of the monarch, the House of Lords and the House of Commons. It is responsible for passing new laws and checking that the Government is doing its job properly.

    Election candidates usually represent a political party and the party with the most candidates that win seats form the new government. The Prime Minister is the leader of that party.

    The government is a little like the management of the country. It is made up of different government Departments run by Ministers who are specially selected by the Prime Minister.

    Who makes sure the elections are fair?

    The Electoral Commission make sure that everyone understands why and how to vote in the UK. They also make sure that political parties follow the rules of elections.

    Voting systems in the UK

    There are many different voting systems a country can use but at the moment in the UK we use the first-past-the-post system.

    This is when each voter casts a single vote for the candidate of his or her choice. At the end of the Election Day the votes are counted and the candidate with the highest total votes is declared the winner.

    However some people do not think this system is fair and would like to see it changed. On 5th May 2011, the government has asked everyone in the UK to vote in a referendum whether they would like our voting system to change to the Alternative Vote (AV) system instead.

    Learn more about both voting systems here.

    Other voting systems.

    What is a referendum?

    Sometimes the government asks its citizens to help them decide what to do about an important issue. They do this by organising a referendum.

    A referendum runs in a similar way to an election but instead of voting for a party you are asked to vote either 'yes' or 'no' to a question.

    Referendums are not run very often in the UK. The last referendum was in 1975 when the then government asked its citizens to decide if the UK should stay in what is now known as the European Union.

    On the 5th May 2011 a referendum is being held to decide what type of voting system we should have in the UK.

    The question that citizens will be asked is:

    At present, the UK uses the first-past-the-post system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the Alternative Vote system be used instead?

    Learn more about both voting systems here.

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