Election 2015: How to vote

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On 7 May, the UK will go the polls in the general election. Here's how to vote.

When can I vote?

The election takes place on 7 May, between 07:00 and 22:00 BST. In the 2010 general election, up to 1,200 people were left queuing at polling stations as polls closed at 22:00, and were unable to vote. UK legislation was changed in 2013 to prevent that situation from happening again. If you are in a queue at 22:00 BST, you will now be guaranteed the opportunity to vote.

What are we voting for?

The general election will decide which party (or coalition of parties) forms the next UK government. There are 650 seats in the UK Parliament's House of Commons up for grabs.

Local elections are also taking place across much of England, and there are six mayoral elections.

Where do I vote?

If you are on the electoral register, you should have received a polling card through the post which has your name, polling number and the address of your polling station printed on it.

Polling stations are usually set up in public buildings such as schools, community centres and village halls near where you live.

In 2010, there were more than 40,000 polling stations across the UK - and there should be no more than 2,500 voters per polling station, according to Electoral Commission recommendations.

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If you have not received a polling card but think you should have, contact your local authority's election office.

If you have lost your polling card, the office will be able to tell you where your polling station is.

To find the contact details of your local office, enter your postcode on the About My Vote website.

Do I need to take my polling card with me?

No. The polling card is for your information only, but taking it to the polling station can speed up the process.

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Can I go to any polling station?

No. You must vote at the polling station to which you have been assigned.

Any voter who has not had a chance to post their postal vote (if they have asked for one) can still take it to their polling station.

What do I do when I get to the polling station?

When you arrive, staff will take your details and cross off your name on their checklist. In Northern Ireland, staff will also ask for a form of photographic ID.

What happens next?

You will be given a ballot paper listing candidates and parties you can vote for. It will be printed on special paper or feature an official mark or number to combat fraud.

You may be given more than one ballot paper if there are local or mayoral elections in your area.

Then I vote?

Yes. Take the ballot paper to one of the booths, which are screened to ensure secrecy.

Each polling booth should include sharpened pencils, attached to string long enough to accommodate both right and left-handed voters. You can use you own pen or pencil if you prefer.

Read the ballot paper carefully before you vote.

How do I vote?

Put an X in the box next to the name of the person you want to vote for. If you mark any more boxes, your paper will be invalid.

Can I put a smiley face instead?

The Electoral Commission says the best way to make sure your vote is counted to mark an X in a box. But a smiley face or anything which is interpreted by a returning officer as an expression of preference "must not be rejected if the voter's intention is clear", its guidance to Returning Officers says.

What do I do with my marked ballot paper?

Fold the ballot paper so others cannot see your choice and post it in the ballot box.

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What if I make a mistake?

You can get your ballot paper reissued, so long as you have not put it in the ballot box.

Can I spoil my ballot paper?

Yes. The verification of the used, unused and spoilt ballot papers is a legal requirement. Some people spoil their votes as a means of people registering their democratic right to express a view, but not vote for any of the candidates.

I have got a disability. Can I get help?

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Yes, everyone has the right to request assistance to mark their ballot paper. You can do this by asking the presiding officer to mark the paper for you. Or bring a close family member who is over 18, or someone who is eligible to vote at the election, such as a support worker, with you.

If you have a visual impairment, you can ask for a special voting device that allows you to vote on your own in secret. A large print version of the ballot paper should also be clearly displayed in the polling station.

Returning officers must also consider accessibility requirements when planning for election, and polling stations are selected in consultation with local disability groups so that wheelchair ramps and disabled parking spaces are available.

If a voter cannot enter the polling station because of a physical disability, the presiding officer may take the ballot paper to the elector.

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I have a learning disability. Can I get help?

Yes if you need help, call the Electoral Commission's public information line on 0333 103 1928.

A dedicated helpline for anyone with a learning disability who has questions about casting their vote, or experiences any difficulties in doing so, has also been set up by Mencap, a partner of the Electoral Commission.

The helpline is also available to the families and carers of people with learning disabilities, and to polling station staff. The number is 020 7696 5588.

What if I cannot get to a polling station?

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If you are suddenly incapacitated or taken ill on polling day, you can apply for an emergency proxy up until 17:00 BST on the day.

I forgot to register, can I vote?

No, you cannot vote unless you are on the electoral register.

Is it compulsory to vote?

No, people cannot be forced to vote.

When will I know the result?

The votes will start to be counted as soon as the polls close at 22:00 BST. Constituencies will start to declare within the first few hours of the vote, with a large number expected between 03:00 BST and 05:00 BST. But with the election too close to call, it is difficult to predict when a new government will be formed.

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