Chapter 5 The UK Government, the law, and your role -Part 4 Revision


–          Who can vote

  • The democratic voting system in the UK has been in place since 1928.
  • The current voting age is 18.  It was set in 1969.
  • With a few exceptions all UK-born and naturalized citizens have the right to vote.  The following groups can vote in all elections, including General Elections:
    • Adult citizens of the UK
    • Citizens of the Commonwealth who are UK residents
    • Citizens of the Irish Republic who are UK residents
  • Adult citizens of other EU states who are residents of the UK can vote in all elections except General Elections.

–          Where to vote

  • In the UK, Scotland and Wales:
    • In order to vote in a parliamentary, European, or local elections, you must have your name listed in the electoral register.
    • If you believe you are eligible to vote, contact your local council electoral registration office to register.  Your electoral registration office is usually located at your local council offices.  In Scotland it may be in a different place.
    • If you don’t know which local council to visit, you may look up the information online at and enter your postcode.  You may also download local voter registration forms on the site.
    • The electoral register is updated annually in September or October.  A registration for is sent to every household and it must be returned to the office, with the names of everyone in the household who is registered to vote.
  • In Northern Ireland:
    • Northern Ireland uses a system called “individual registration”.
    • Each individual who is eligible to vote should fill out their own registration form.
    • Once registered, you will stay in the register, and do not need to register the following year.  Your entry will need to be updated if any personal details change.
    • The electoral website for Northern Ireland is
  • The electoral register is a public document.  It can be viewed upon request, but such viewing must be supervised.

–          How to vote

  • Shortly before an election every registered voter will receive a “poll card” with the location of their voting site.  This site is called a polling station, or polling place in Scotland.
  • Polling stations are open from 7:00 am – 7:00 pm on election day.
  • On election day, go to your stated polling station.  The staff there will ask you to verify your name and address.   In Northern Ireland you will also have to show photo identification.
  • You will receive a paper ballot and be directed to a private polling booth to fill it out.
  • No one has the right to tell you who to vote for.  You should make up your own mind when filling out the ballot.
  • Once you have filled out the ballot, put it in the ballot box.
  • If it is difficult for you to get to your polling place you may request a ballot by post.  You must chose this option when you register to vote.  Fill out the ballot and post it back to the address indicated.

–          Standing for office

  • Most citizens of the UK, Commonwealth or the Irish Republic can stand for office, except:
    • Civil servants
    • Members of the military
    • Those found guilty of certain offenses
  • Members of the House of Lords may not stand for election to the House of Commons.  They are free to stand for any other election.

–          Visiting Parliament and the devolved governments

  • The UK Parliament
    • The public can listen to debates in the Palace of Westminster from public galleries provided for that purpose.  One may obtain tickets in advance or queue in line on the day of.
    • Queues for the House of Commons can be quite long, and waits of 1-2 hours are not uncommon.  Queues for the House of Lords are usually shorter.
  • Northern Ireland Assembly
    • Members of the Assembly meet in Belfast at Stormont.
    • A visit to Stormont must be arranged in advance, either by contacting the Education Service or by contacting an MLA.  Details for the Education Service are online at
  • Scottish Parliament
    • Parliament meets at Holyrood in Edinburgh.
    • To receive information, obtain tickets, or arrange a tour through visitor services, write to:

Scottish Parliament

Edinburgh, EH99 1SP

Tel 0131 348 5200


  • National Assembly for Wales
    • The Welsh Assembly meets in the Senedd in Cardiff Bay.
    • The Senedd is open to the public.  You may book guided tours or seats in the public galleries for the Assembly by contacting the Assembly Booking Service:
      • Tel 0845 010 5500
      • Email