A Student's Guide to Voting in a General Election


Time to prepare for an election
Time to prepare for an election

With Liz Truss resigning as Prime Minister yesterday, and reportedly replaced within the next week, there is [or certainly should be] a higher probability of a General Election within the coming weeks. For sure, some media outlets and opposition parties are clamouring for one.


As a mum of a first-year student located in a university too far away to just pop back home and vote mid-semester, I have done a little research to find out how my Young Person (YP) will be able to vote, should an early election be called.


Yes, I know Boris Johnson won a healthy majority in 2019, and the Conservative party technically have until 2024 to call the next scheduled election, but I still think it wise to be prepared, just in case.


QUESTION 1: ARE YOU ON THE ELECTORAL REGISTER?

My YP turned 18 in November 2021, and so this is their first ever election. It was up to us to add them to the electoral register of our hometown, after their 18th birthday, and was not done automatically as some might imagine it would be.


You have a choice to make, most notably where would you like to be registered, e.g.: in your hometown, or in your university town? You are entitled to choose either, but not both, and where you choose to register will be the constituency you will be voting in and on behalf of.


Example: if you're registered on the electoral roll in your hometown, you will be voting for a Member of Parliament (MP) to represent your hometown. If you're registered on the electoral roll in your university town, you will be voting for a MP to represent your university town.


You will be able to change where you're registered at a later date, e.g.: once you're left university and have returned to your hometown, or should you relocate somewhere else, for a job etc.


QUESTION 2: HOW WILL YOU VOTE?

Don't worry, this isn't a question about your voting intentions, but literally how you will vote, e.g.: in person, using a proxy, or a postal vote.


In-Person: If you are registered in your hometown and are able and willing to pop home to vote in person, then that's great. Your Polling Card will be sent to your hometown address to use on Election Day. Please also note that from May 2023, photo ID will be required to vote in person (driver's licence, Student ID card, passport etc).


Proxy: For whatever reason, you may choose to select a trusted person to vote on your behalf, but you will have to be certain they will vote in accordance with your wishes, especially if their political opinions differ from your own. You can apply to vote by proxy here.


Postal: If you intend to vote but live too far away to vote in person, and would prefer not to rely on a trusted proxy, then you can apply to vote by post, but there are a couple of points to bear in mind, as highlighted above already, but I will recap in context:


You can choose to be registered in, and voting for an MP to represent your hometown, or you can be registered in, and voting for an MP to represent your university town; you can pick either, but not both. You can apply to vote by post here.


Example: My YP is registered in our hometown but resides in halls at a university too far away to just swoop home quickly and vote in-person (mid-semester). Therefore, my YP has applied for a postal vote, which means our hometown electoral services will forward postal ballot papers to my YP at university, for them to fill in and return carefully (there are very precise procedures to follow) to our hometown electoral services, to vote for our local hometown MP.


QUESTION 3: WHEN WILL THE NEXT GENERAL ELECTION BE?

Well, until the events of the past few weeks unfolded, the best guess was May 2024, because each Prime Ministerial term is five years long. However, we're in unchartered waters now, because the Conservative party are seeking to change their leader (and therefore the country's Prime Minister) for the second time since September, and all without consulting the electorate (yet). And when you consider that our rulers govern by consent who exactly, but the Conservative party membership, elected Liz Truss to govern, and who exactly, but the exclusive Conservative Parliamentary party, will elect whoever is next? Democracy is aching to be vigorously exercised, don't you think?


So, there we have it, a brief and easily digestible summary of your options, but I would urge you to exercise your voting rights and preferences quickly, because events may well unfold at breakneck speed in the weeks to come. Of course, they might not, and we may be stuck in this weird kind of political limbo until May 2024, but better to be ready to make your voice heard and your vote count, so please act now.


For more comprehensive information, links and contact details, please visit the Electoral Commission's website.