How do I vote in the General Election?

A young woman leaves a polling station

Not sure how to vote in the general election? Don’t panic!

The last UK General Election took place on the 12th of December 2019, and the next will be no later than January 2025. If you’re not quite sure how to register, what the deadlines are and how you need to vote – don’t worry, we’ve got you. Remember that no matter how you decide to vote on the day, your vote matters and it’s really important to have your say.

Politics has an impact on pretty much every aspect of life, and not just the big issues like climate change and poverty, but pretty much everything else too; from exams and getting a job, to what you eat and where you go out on a Friday night. Read our article to find out why you should give a shit about politics.

Can I vote in the general election?

You’re eligible to vote if you’re a British, Irish or qualifying Commonwealth citizen, you’re living at a British address and you’re 18 or over on the day of the election.

You now require ID to vote in the UK

In 2023 the conservative government changed the rules about voting. You now require photo ID to vote in UK general elections. The main forms of ID that are accepted are either a driving licence, a passport or a PASS card. If you don’t have any of these, you can also apply for a free ‘Voter authority certificate’ via the government’s website. For this, you’ll need a recent photo of yourself similar to a passport photo and your national insurance number.

Apply for a voter authority certificate.

Why do you now require ID to vote in the UK?

The government claims that the requirement for ID will make the voting system more secure from fraud. At the last general election, police investigated 595 cases of alleged electoral fraud, according to the Electoral Commission. Following the investigation, four people were convicted of fraud.

Who can I vote for in the general election?

Most people vote for either Labour (left wing), the Conservatives (right wing) or the Liberal Democrats (who are normally right of labour in terms of economic policy, and left wing socially), but there are a bunch of other parties you can vote for if you have a more specific direction you want policy makers to go in. The Green Party, for example, are focussed on social justice, environmentalism and nonviolence.

Who should I vote for?

Many people think there’s no point in selecting a party that’s unlikely to win, but if you want to see real change then voting with your heart rather than your head is probably the way to go. The more young people of voting age do this, the more likely the parties who are currently seen as outsiders are going to be represented in Westminster, where they can really influence what goes on. 

It also might be useful to think about who normally wins in your local council. Some places (mainly cities) are full of Labour supporters, others (think: the countryside) always vote Conservative. Your vote could technically count more if you live in an area where the Parliamentary seat is hotly contested.  

I don’t know where to start…

If you’re feeling frazzled and you’re not sure how to vote, here’s our handy guide, including all the important deadlines you need to be aware of.

Get yourself registered

First thing’s first: if you want to vote, you need to make sure you’re on the electoral register. If you’re not sure whether you’re registered or not, you can check online with your local electoral registration office.

If you’re not already registered, you can register online. The process is very quick and simple and once you’ve filled in the online form, your local electoral office will be in touch to keep you updated about your registration.

If you’ve registered before but you’ve recently moved to a new address and you haven’t voted since you’ve moved, you’ll need to register again.

What if I want to register by post?

This isn’t a problem and anyone can vote by post if they want to. You can fill out a form here. If you want to apply for a postal vote, the deadline to do this was 5pm on 26 November for the last election in 2019. Once you registered, the postal vote had to arrive at your electoral office in the UK by 10pm on 12 December (the day of the election).

If you live in Northern Ireland, you will need a different form to apply for a postal vote and the deadline for the election in 2019 was 5pm on 21 November.

Help! I’ve left it too late!

If you’re too late to post your ballot paper, don’t panic! You can take it to your local polling station on election day by 10pm. If you live in Northern Ireland, just take it straight to your local electoral office by 10pm.

What if I’m on holiday or unable to vote in person on election day?

Don’t worry, you can register to vote by proxy, which means that someone else can vote for you. They must be registered to vote and legally allowed to vote in the general election. The deadline for registering to vote by proxy in the 2019 election was 5pm on 4 December, or 5pm on 21 November if you lived in Northern Ireland.

You can only register to vote by proxy if you are away on polling day, have a medical issue or a disability or because of reasons relating to work or military service.

You can apply to vote by emergency proxy if you have a medical emergency that takes place between the election day and six days before.

I’m a student living away from home – where do I need to vote?

There’s no need to miss out on having your say just because you’re studying away from home.

If you split your time between two addresses, you’re legally entitled to register at both those places. However, you’re not legally allowed to vote in both places in a general election. So, the easiest thing to do is work out which place you’re going to be at on election day and choose the option that’s most convenient for you.

  • If you’re not sure which address you’ll be at you can register to vote in both places to leave your options open and then choose where to vote closer to the time.
  • You can register to vote at the local electoral office near where you study and vote there.
  • You can register to vote at your home address and vote there.
  • You can register for a postal vote for either your home address or your place of study.

Where to vote in a general election

Once you’re registered to vote, you’ll receive a polling card in the post, which will have the address and map directing you to your local polling station. You can vote there on the day of the election, and polling stations are usually open from 7am – 10pm.

Remember photo ID is now required to vote if you’re voting in person. A driving licence or passport is required for young people, 

Once you get to the station there will be staff there who’ll give you your ballot paper and tell you what to do and where to put the paper once you’ve voted.

After that – your part is done! Then all you need to do is wait for the results…

Next Steps

By Holly Turner

Updated on 15-Mar-2023