Channel 4 Learning

Who rules //


As long as you're aged 18 or over, are a British citizen and you've registered to vote, then you can. There are a few exceptions though. People held in a psychiatric hospital non–voluntarily, prisoners and members of the House of Lords lose the right to vote.

So, what happens on the big day? By this point everyone who is registered to vote should have received a polling card. This indicates where the local polling station is.

You take the card with you when you go to vote and the person at the polling station ticks you off the register. You get given your ballot paper and you then go to a booth and put a cross next to the name of the candidate you want to vote for, fold your paper and slot it into the ballot box. Pretty simple.

Vote by proxy and postal votes

Can't turn up on the day? That's ok, you can arrange for either a vote by proxy or a postal vote. A postal vote is exactly what it says – you vote by posting your ballot paper. A vote by proxy is where you allow someone else to go and vote for you. They don't take your vote, but instead you tell them who you want to vote for and they do it for you. However, both of these have to be pre-arranged.

Too much hassle

It can be a bit of a pain having to go to a polling station, and the government knows that many voters don't turn up because of this. New ways to vote have been tried out. These include online voting, mobile polling stations for areas where it's genuinely difficult or too far to travel in order to vote, text voting, polling stations being open several days before the main polling day, polling booths in supermarkets and telephone voting. There's no excuse really, voting is taking place everywhere!

Smiling woman holding out her passport

This South African woman shows her identity card as she queues to cast her first ever vote in the country's 2004 election. People queued for hours to vote, quite a contrast to voter turnout in Britain!

Key Points

  • Most people aged 18 or over can vote in a general election.
  • You need to be on the electoral register to be allowed to vote.
  • If you can't make it to the polling station you can apply to vote by proxy or by post.
  • To encourage people to vote, new voting methods have been tried out including online voting and text voting.

Interesting Facts

  • In the future you probably won't even need to leave the comfort of your own home to vote.
  • In 2001 just 31% of 18–24 year olds turned up to vote.
  • Women weren't allowed to vote in Britain until 1928.

Big Question

  • Do you think more young people should vote?