General Election 2019: How to register to vote, and other election questions

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Man checking phoneImage source, Getty Images

Who is eligible to vote?

You must be a British citizen, a citizen of the Republic of Ireland, or a Commonwealth citizen who meets certain eligibility criteria. You must live in the UK, or be a British citizen abroad who has been registered to vote in the last 15 years. EU citizens cannot vote in a general election unless they have dual nationality.

Some people are excluded from voting, including members of the House of Lords, convicted prisoners, anybody found guilty of electoral fraud within the past five years, and people with any "legal incapacity" that impairs their judgement.

The electorate is slightly different in a general election than in the Brexit referendum, which included those registered to vote in Gibraltar.

How do I register to vote?

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Don't get left outside on polling day - here's how to register to vote

It takes about five minutes to register on the government's website, or you can register by post. You will need your National Insurance number, date of birth and address.

Students can vote using their university or home address. It is legal to be registered in two areas, but a criminal offence to vote in both.

People who are away for work or a holiday on election day can vote by post or proxy, which means nominating someone to cast a ballot for you. Your proxy must be a registered voter over the age of 18.

Do I need my polling card to vote?

After registering to vote, your council will send you a polling card. That includes details of your polling station and when you can vote.

You don't need to take this polling card with you to vote. Tell the polling clerks your name and address, and they will issue your ballot paper.

In England, Scotland and Wales, you don't need to take photo ID either, despite recent government proposals.

But that's not the case in Northern Ireland, where identification is needed.

Can the Queen vote in a general election?

The Queen does not vote. She "has to remain strictly neutral with respect to political matters" and is "unable to vote or stand for election", according to Buckingham Palace.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Each incoming prime minister is formally asked by the Queen to form a government

However, the monarch is legally allowed to cast a ballot in general elections.

The Queen does not vote "by convention... rather than because of a legal impediment", the Electoral Commission has said.

Who runs the country during an election period?

Parliament is dissolved 25 working days before a general election. This means every seat in the House of Commons becomes vacant and MPs stop representing their constituencies. They even stop being able to use MP in their name.

However, government ministers remain in office and in charge of their departments until a new government is formed.

By convention, after Parliament is dissolved, a period called "purdah" begins, when ministers' activities and the use of official resources are restricted.

Pre-election restrictions also apply to more than 440,000 civil servants working in the UK. They're staff who are politically impartial and work for government departments or agencies.

In this period, they aren't allowed to do any work for "political party purposes". That includes answering queries on new policies outlined in a manifesto, or commenting on proposals.

Why is a pencil used for voting?

The Electoral Commission says that pencils are usually used in polling booths for practical reasons. The ink from a pen could leave a mark when a ballot paper is folded, or run or spill.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Dogs are sometimes allowed in polling stations, if they're on a lead

But there's nothing in law that says you have to use a pencil. If voters want to, they can take their own pen.

Is it illegal to take photos in a voting booth?

There are no laws against taking photos in a polling booth but it is strongly discouraged. That's because laws to make sure votes stay secret are very complex.

For example, it's illegal to reveal how somebody else has voted - and taking of photos could break that rule.

Who will be the first to declare results?

For 25 years, Sunderland South - latterly Houghton and Sunderland South - was the country's first to declare their results.

But in the 2017 general election, Newcastle upon Tyne Central beat them by seven minutes - delivering their results at 23:00, an hour after polling stations closed.

Sunderland City Council says being organised is the key to efficient counts. It uses local sixth-formers to pass ballot boxes down the line and council staff and bank tellers to count the votes.

What happens to voting slips?

Once the votes have been counted and the winners declared, all the ballot papers are put in sealed bags and stored securely for one year.

They have to be kept separately - sorted by counted papers, postal votes, rejected papers or unused ones.

Image source, Getty Images

That's in case the result of the election is challenged legally, for example if someone thinks a candidate broke the law, or votes weren't counted correctly.

Afterwards, the council is responsible for their disposal. Some shred the papers and recycle them, but they don't have to.

Who organises an election?

As soon as Parliament is dissolved, there is a lot to do.

Before election day, jobs include delivering nomination papers, making sure postal and proxy votes are sent out and new voters are registered.

The people in charge of this are called returning officers. There's one for each constituency.

They're also responsible for finding presiding officers to oversee each polling station, poll clerks to staff the stations and counting assistants to finalise the result.

Do you have any other questions about elections?

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