Ben HaywardOctober 31st

With our third general election in just four years now looming on the horizon, there’s been a lot of talk about how, where (and how many times) students can vote.

With confusing, often conflicting information coming from all angles, it’s important that students don’t miss out on having their voices heard at what could be one of the most closely contested, not to mention crucial, elections in living memory.

The student vote is becoming more and more influential in the outcome of general elections - it's even been suggested that students swung some marginal seats in 2017...

So, we’ve put together a list of everything you need to know to make sure you make the best use of your vote when polling day (Thursday, December 12th) rolls around… 

Can I vote in a general election?

For the vast majority of you, the answer is yes. To vote in a UK general election you must:

  • Be 18 or over on the day of the election.

  • Be resident at an address in the UK (or a British citizen living abroad who has been registered to vote in the UK in the last 15 years).

  • Not be legally excluded from voting.

If you’re not eligible to vote, you can save some time and not read on… But if you are…

You need to be on the electoral register!

In order to vote in this general election you must be registered by Monday, November 25th.

You only have to register once, but will need to re-register if you have changed your address, name or nationality since you first registered. 

And now on to the important part - if you’re a student you can register to vote at both your home and term-time addresses - as long as they’re not in the same constituency. However, it’s very important to remember this doesn’t mean you can vote twice - in a general election it is illegal to vote more than once. 

You can register to vote here. Remember you need to do this by November 25th!

If you have any doubts about whether you’re registered to vote or not, you should contact your local Electoral Registration Office. Use this link if you live in England, Scotland or Wales and this link if you live in Northern Ireland. 

So, where should I vote then?

Well, obviously that’s completely up to you, but one thing you could consider is where your vote could make the most difference.  

For example, your pre-university address may be in a marginal (closely contested) seat, whereas your university address might be in a safe seat. In this situation your vote may be more valuable at your non-uni address. 

Now, the opposite could be true too, so if you do want to 'vote tactically' it's worth checking how people voted in your constituencies at the last (2017) general election, which you can do here.

For example, my university address falls in the Manchester Gorton constituency which was won with a 69% majority by Labour - a very safe seat. My parents live in the Morecambe and Lunesdale constituency which was won by the Conservatives with a relatively small margin of 3.1%. My vote would matter far more in Morecambe than in Manchester.

Just to make things a little more complicated, this time around the election falls on Thursday, December 12th - very close to when university terms are finishing for Christmas. 

Depending on your travel arrangements this could mean you’re not actually going to be in the place where you want to vote, for example you may have already travelled home but want to vote in your university constituency.

This begs the question… 

Do I have to go and vote in person?

The short answer is no, which is very good news for students. There are a couple of ways you can vote even if you can’t be there in person on the day, but they do require a little bit of forward planning…

So, number one, anyone who’s registered to vote in an election can apply for a postal vote.

If you live in England, Scotland or Wales you need to fill in this form and then send it to your local Electoral Registration Office. 

If you want to vote by post in Northern Ireland, you need to follow the instructions here from the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland.

You will only receive your postal vote (through the post, of course…) after the deadline for anyone to become a candidate has passed - this is approximately three weeks before polling day.

Once you’ve received it, complete the ballot paper according to the instructions, then put it in the smaller envelope and seal it up. Next, complete and sign the postal voting statement, before putting everything inside the big envelope and sealing the whole lot.

If possible you should put your postal vote in the postbox yourself, giving it plenty of time to get to your local authority by 5pm on polling day so it will definitely be counted!

If you can't post your postal vote in time, you can still take it to your polling station or local authority on polling day.

You can also sign up for what’s known as a proxy vote - this means you can nominate someone else to vote on your behalf.

It can be anyone as long as they’re registered to vote and are allowed to vote in a general election.

You need to apply for a proxy vote at least six working days before election day if you want to vote in England, Scotland or Wales - so in this case that means you need to apply by December 3rd, just to be on the safe side.

There are different forms to fill in depending on the reason you want the proxy vote, which can be:

  • You’ll be away.

  • You’ll be at work.

  • You’ll be attending a course.

  • You’re disabled.

  • You’re living overseas.

  • You’re serving overseas as a member of the armed forces.

  • You’re a British Council employee or Crown servant (for example diplomatic or overseas civil service).

As usual, there’s a different form to apply to vote by proxy in Northern Ireland and in this case you need to apply at least 14 working days before election day - November 21st in this case. 

After all of this, the most important thing is that you exercise your right to vote - you can’t whinge about the result if you don’t take part!

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