The UK Rules
Different Types of Election

Types of Elections and Referendums

The United Kingdom uses six different types of election as part of the standard electoral voting system. Holding a referendum also allows the electorate to vote on a single agenda, instead of candidates.

Information in this section explains the key differences between UK elections and referendums, and who can vote in the contrasting election types.

General Elections (to the UK Parliament)

As a rule, the UK has a General Election every five (5) years. To cast your vote, providing you are not legally excluded from voting, you must be:

The United Kingdom is divided into 650 parliamentary constituencies. Each constituency is represented by its Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons (UK Parliament).

During a General Election, voters would elect MPs using a system called 'First Past the Post'. In simple terms, you vote once for a candidate in your particular constituency. The candidate who gets the most votes becomes the MP for that constituency.

Note: Learn more about your local MP on the UK Parliament website. The Electoral Commission explains more about General Elections and how UK Parliament represents the people of the United Kingdom.

Local Government Elections

As a general rule, local government elections take place every two (2) to four (4) years. So, they do not occur at the same time. The local government in your area will carry out one of the following:

To cast your vote in a local government election, providing you are not legally excluded from voting, you must be:

Note: England and Wales use the First Past the Post system to elect local government councillors. Scotland and Northern Ireland use the Single Transferable Vote system to elect councillors (ranking the candidates in order of preference).

Voting in more than One Local Election

In some cases, UK voting rules allow individuals to vote in two different local authority areas. Living in more than one area (e.g. as a student) means you may be able to cast your vote in both areas.

You would need to register to vote in both authority areas. The local Electoral Registration Offices would check both applications to confirm whether you can register in more than one area.

Note: The Electoral Commission website provides further information and references about local government elections.

European Parliament Elections

Elections for MEPs in the European Parliament take place every five (5) years. EU citizens living in the UK, who want to vote in the European Parliament elections, should contact electoral authorities in the EU country where they hold citizenship.

Note: The UK no longer has MEPs after leaving the EU. Besides that, the UK will not take part in future European Parliamentary elections.

Scottish Parliament Elections

The Scottish Parliament has 129 members (MSP). To cast your vote in a Scottish Parliament election, providing you are not legally excluded from voting, you must be:

Scotland uses the Additional Member system to elect its MSPs. That means you would cast a vote once for your constituency MSP, and then again for an MSP to represent the wider region.

Note: The Electoral Commission provides further information and references on Scottish Parliament elections.

Northern Ireland Assembly Election

The Northern Ireland Assembly has ninety (90) Members in the Legislative Assembly (MLA). To cast your vote in a Northern Ireland Assembly election, providing you are not legally excluded from voting, you must be:

Note: Northern Ireland uses the Single Transferable Vote system to elect MLAs. The About My Vote website contains more information on the Northern Ireland Assembly elections.

National Assembly for Wales Election

The National Assembly for Wales has sixty (60) Assembly Members (AM). To cast your vote in a National Assembly for Wales election, providing you are not legally excluded from voting, you must be:

Wales uses the Additional Member system to elect its Assembly Members. That means you would cast a vote once for your constituency AM, and then again for an AM to represent the wider region.

Note: The Electoral Commission has further details and information on National Assembly for Wales elections.

Local Mayors, Mayor of London, London Assembly

Elected Local Mayors

Voters will elect a mayor in certain areas of England. You can use your local council website to confirm whether your mayor got elected.

England uses the Supplementary Vote system to elect its mayors. It means you make a first and second choice when voting.

All - except the top two candidates - get eliminated if no candidate wins more than 50% of the first choice votes. The system counts the second choice if the first choice candidate gets eliminated, and the second choice is for one of the top two that remain.

Note: You must be eligible to vote in local government elections to cast a vote for a local mayor in England.

Mayor of London and London Assembly

The main role of the Mayor of London is making decisions on behalf of the people of London. The role of the 25 London Assembly Members is ensuring that the decisions made by the London Mayor are in the best interests of the public.

To cast your vote in the London Mayor and London Assembly elections, providing you are not legally excluded from voting, you must be:

The election of the Mayor of London is carried out using the Supplementary Vote system. Thus, you would make a first and a second choice when voting. But, electing London Assembly members takes place using the Additional Member system.

Note: The Assembly contains 14 constituency members and 11 London-wide members. Further information on the London Mayor and Assembly is available on The Electoral Commission website.

Police and Crime Commissioner

England and Wales has 41 Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC). The purpose of electing PCCs (by the Supplementary Vote system) is to ensure the police are run in a proper manner. Nevertheless, London does not have an elected PCC.

To cast a vote in a Police and Crime Commissioners election, providing you are not legally excluded from voting, you must be:

Note: The Electoral Commission website has more information on Police and Crime Commissioner elections.

Referendum Rules in United Kingdom

The definition of a referendum is a vote taken on a single issue. Even so, different kinds of referendums will have different rules on who can vote in them.

To vote in a UK referendum, providing you are not legally excluded from voting, you must be:

Note: As a rule, when voting in a referendum, you make one choice between two stated options. An example is the EU referendum question that took place in June 2016. The votes counted for the whole of the United Kingdom (not by constituency).


Types of Election in the United Kingdom

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