10:27 04 June 2009
Thursday June 4 is voting day, meaning that thousands of us will head down to the polls for elections to the European Parliament and to councils across England.
Politics can be a pretty daunting subject for the average Joe, but thankfully the BBC have come up with a detailed, yet easy to understand, run down of what this historic days means for you:
When can I vote?
Thursday, 4 June. Polling stations are open between 7am and 10pm.
Where do I vote?
You should have been sent a polling card with details of your nearest polling station on it. It will normally be a local school or leisure centre. You do not need to take the polling card with you to vote - but you do need to be a registered voter.
How do I vote?
You will be given a ballot paper with a list of parties and candidates on it. Go into the polling booth and put a single cross next to the one you want to vote for. Staff at the polling station will be able to help with any questions. In Northern Ireland - where a different electoral system is in place - people must number their choices in order of preference. Northern Irish voters will also be asked to provide photographic ID.
What am I voting for?
Elections for the European Parliament are taking place across the UK. In these elections you vote for a party rather than an individual candidate. The parties will be listed alphabetically. In 34 local authority areas in England you will also be able to vote for local councillors. You will be given a second ballot paper that will list the names and addresses of all candidates and, underneath, the party they represent. Voters in Doncaster, Hartlepool and North Tyneside will also get to choose directly elected mayors.
Who is standing for election?
There are a record number of parties standing at this year's European elections, representing all shades of political opinion. There are thousands of local council seats up for grabs in England.
Why should I bother voting?
It is up to you - but unlike at a general election, which uses a first-past-the-post system, every vote in the European election counts towards the final tally of MEPs elected. While it is true that you are not voting to form a government - the European Parliament does not create laws - it does have a growing influence on the legislation coming out of Brussels. So the policies and attitudes of UK parties towards the EU do matter. The result will also have an impact on the relevant parties' standing in domestic British politics.
Am I entitled to vote?
Anyone aged 18 or over on 4 June, provided they are British, Irish or a citizen of a Commonwealth country and live in the UK, are entitled to vote in both elections. Citizens of other EU member states who are resident in the UK can also vote as can British military personnel serving abroad. UK citizens now living abroad are also entitled to vote in the European elections for 15 years after they were taken off the electoral register.
Do I need to register to vote?
Yes. Your details need to be on the electoral register to be able to vote. The deadline for registration has now passed - it was on 19 May.
What if I can't vote in person?
The deadline for applying for a postal vote has also now passed. People who receive a postal ballot must cast their vote in the same way as if they were at a polling station, while also giving their date of birth and signature. The ballots must be returned to council offices or the nearest polling station by 10pm on 4 June to be valid.
What about proxy votes?
Certain people can nominate someone else to cast their vote in person - but the deadline for applying for proxy votes has now passed.
When will we know the results of local council elections?
It is up to the returning officer for each local authority poll to decide when the votes should be counted. A handful of counts will begin immediately after polls close, with the results being announced in the early hours of Friday 5 June. The vast majority of the results will be announced from late morning Friday.
What about the European elections?
Results will start to be published from 9pm on Sunday, 7 June. The delay is down to the fact that polling is taking place in 27 EU countries over the course of four days, with countries such as Germany voting on Sunday. In Northern Ireland, the results will not be announced until Monday 8 June.
How will the elections be decided?
Council seats will be decided by the traditional first past the post system used at general elections where people get to choose between individual candidates. In the European elections, seats will be awarded to the parties in relation to the proportion of the vote they received in each region. So the party that wins the most votes will get the most MEPs, starting with the name at the top of its candidate list and working down.
What is the European Parliament?
It is the only directly-elected European Union body. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) spend most of their time in Brussels debating and voting on legislation proposed by the European Commission and also gather once a month in Strasbourg. The last elections were held in 2004. 736 MEPs will be elected from across the EU this time around, including 72 from the UK. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will have six, four and three MEPs respectively while the remaining 59 will represent nine different regions across England.
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