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General elections and European elections

Find out how elections are run, where to find election results, how constituency boundaries are decided and reviewed, and how to stand as a candidate.

General elections

In a general election, every area in the country votes for one Member of Parliament (MP) to represent them in the House of Commons. There are 646 geographical areas, called constituencies.

Each eligible voter has one vote in their local constituency, and the candidate with the most votes becomes the MP for that area. This voting system is called 'first past the post'. Usually the political party with the most MPs then forms the government – though two or more parties with a combined majority of MPs may form a coalition government.

There has to be a general election at least every five years. The prime minister decides when to call an election. The last general election was on 5 May 2005, so the next election must be held by 2010.

If an MP dies or resigns between elections, there is a by-election in their constituency.

European elections

Elections for the European Parliament take place every five years. The last European elections were in June 2004, and the next elections will be in June 2009.

There are 78 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) representing the UK; after the 2009 elections there will be 72 UK MEPs. The UK is divided into 12 regions, and each region has between three and ten MEPs.

MEPs are elected under a proportional representation system. In Britain, you have one vote to elect all of your MEPs. Each party puts forward a list of candidates, called a regional list, and you vote for one of these lists or for an independent candidate. The parties are then allocated a number of MEPs according to their share of the vote.

In Northern Ireland there is a different voting method, the 'single transferable vote'. You vote by ranking the candidates in order of preference.

The Electoral Commission

The Electoral Commission is an independent body which aims to increase public confidence and participation in the democratic process. Its website provides information on many issues connected with elections, as well as data and results for past elections.

The Commission also offers factsheets on a range of topics including ballot secrecy, donations to candidates, party political broadcasts, referendums and e-voting.

Constituencies and boundaries

Election boundaries

The Boundary Commission for England reviews the parliamentary constituencies in England, and submits recommendations to the Secretary of State for changes to the constituency boundaries.

There are equivalent Boundary Commissions for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Election mapping

Ordnance Survey provides online mapping of election areas, mainly for use by teachers and election campaigners. You can choose various administrative and electoral boundaries to be overlaid on the map, to see the extent of the constituency or local government district that you live in.

Standing for election

The Electoral Commission publishes information for people interested in standing as a candidate in different types of elections.

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Register to vote information

Read about registration, voting and taking part

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