UK Elections – D&A’s Cheat Sheet

Written by Scarlett James

Download your free general election cheatsheet! 

All the information contained in the PDF is in plain text format below.

Infographic. Text reads 'D&A's general election cheatsheet, 01 why should you vote, 02 who can vote, 03 UK Parliament (General) Elections), 04 Voting Systems: First-past-the-post, 05 on election day'.

Preview of downloadable guide.

Why should you vote?

People often feel disconnected from our political system here in the UK. Politics is full of moving parts, divisive figures, old buildings and historic titles. But voting is still important, and your vote could genuinely change outcomes for our community.  

While it’s true that your singular vote won’t determine the country’s fate, think of it like this:

You’re not expected to know first aid; doctors and nurses have much greater expertise. However, knowing first aid means you can be a small part of helping someone in an emergency, making it easier for the experts. But, if you try to help without the right knowledge, you could make the situation worse.

In the same way, you’re not individually responsible for changing the country. There are politicians and civil servants who have the experience and knowledge to navigate and influence the system. But, by voting, you join a larger group of people working together to create change. By understanding how the system works and being informed, you can make confident voting decisions that align with your values, contributing meaningfully to the collective effort to shape the country’s future.

Both knowing first aid and voting are ways you can make a positive impact, but they both require the right knowledge and awareness to be truly effective.

And we’re here to help!

Who can vote?

To vote in the UK, you must be:

  •  a UK or Irish citizen, a qualifying Commonwealth citizen living in the UK or a qualifying EU citizen living in the UK.
  • registered on the electoral register. You can be registered from age 16 but are only eligible to vote if you are over 18. 

You can register online or via post. It takes five minutes and you need your National Insurance number.


What elections are there?

There are many different elections you might hear about. This might seem overwhelming but more elections for the people of the UK means we get to have more influence in our political system.  

You don’t have to vote in all of these elections, but if you have an interest in the issues, expertise on the topics, or want to support your community, get out there, read up and vote!

There are:

UK Parliament (General) Elections

  • General elections are called by the current government every four to five years. 
  • UK Parliament makes decisions and passes laws on issues that affect us all. 
  • UK Parliament is made up of two houses: the House of Commons and the House of Lords. 
  • The House of Lords is made up of 700 unelected members who scrutinise the work of the House of Commons. 
  • The House of Commons is elected in a general election and has 650 MPs. 
  • Each MP represents a ‘constituency’; this is the part of the UK you are registered to vote in. 
  • When you vote in a general election, you are voting to decide who will be your local MP. This person will represent your constituency in parliament. 
  • Most candidates represent a political party but there are independent candidates too. 
  • The leader of the party who ends up with the most MPs in parliament becomes Prime Minister. 
  • The Prime Minister then forms a government that leads the country.
  • The party with the second highest number of MPs becomes the leader of the opposition.  

Mayoral Elections

  • Mayoral elections take place at different times in different areas of the country. You can vote in these elections if the area you are registered to vote in has an elected mayor.
  • Mayors can be combined authority mayors, for instance in Greater Manchester. This is where where a group of councils have an elected leader and work together on topics affecting that area (like transport). 
  • Alternatively local authority mayors, like in Bristol, are elected to lead a local council in a single area. 
  • Mayors are elected to office for varying length terms are different up and down the country
  • The mayor of London elections work a little differently and you can read more about this on the Electoral Commission website. 

Local Council Elections

  • Different areas have different kinds of councils
  • Councils are responsible for vital services like local transport, schools, parks libraries and rubbish collection. 
  • They also decide your council tax.
  • When you vote in these elections you can vote for as many candidates as there are councillor vacancies. 
  • The number of vacancies varies between councils because they each elect a different portion of councillors over four years. 

Police and Crime Commissioner Elections

There are 39 police areas across England and Wales. Commissioners for each police area are elected by the public to keep the police force accountable.

Northern Ireland Assembly, Scottish Parliament and Senedd (Welsh Parliament) Elections

  • These elections determine the makeup of each of these countries’ parliaments every five years. 
  • NI, Scottish and Welsh parliaments can pass laws in specific areas like education, economic development and health. 
  • The UK parliament can still make laws for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales but will often check with the relevant country’s parliament. 
  • Certain matters are always the responsibility of the UK Parliament (for example, tax and defence).


Different systems of voting

What is a first-past-the-post system?

First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) is the  simple voting system used in UK general elections.

It works like this:

  1. Each voter casts one vote for a candidate in their constituency (electoral district).
  2. The candidate with the most votes in each constituency wins a seat in the legislative body (for example, the House of Commons or your local council).
  3. A candidate does not need a majority (over 50%) to win; just more votes than any other candidate.

Single Transferable Vote

Single Transferable Vote (STV) is a voting system used to elect multiple representatives in multi-member constituencies.  STV is used in elections for the Irish Dáil (parliament), the Northern Ireland Assembly, and local elections in Scotland.

It works like this:

  1. Voters rank candidates in order of preference (1, 2, 3, etc.).
  2. A quota is set based on the number of votes and the number of seats to be filled. 
  3. First, votes are counted based on the first preferences. Any candidate who meets or exceeds the quota is elected.
  4. If a candidate has more votes than the quota, their surplus votes are transferred to the remaining candidates based on voters’ next preferences. The surplus votes are transferred at a fractional value.
  5. If no candidate meets the quota after surplus votes are transferred, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and their votes are transferred to the remaining candidates based on the next preferences.
  6. This process of transferring surplus votes and eliminating the lowest-ranked candidates continues until all seats are filled.

Additional Member System 

AMS is a voting system used in the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Senedd, and London Assembly.

 It works like this:

  1. Each voter has two votes: one for a local candidate (FPTP) and one for a party (PR).
  2. The first vote elects local representatives. The candidate with the most votes in each constituency wins a seat.
  3. The second vote determines each party’s overall share of seats. Parties receive additional seats to match their proportion of the second vote.
  4. If a party wins fewer constituency seats than their second vote share, they get extra seats from party lists to balance it out.

On election day:

In the UK it is now a legal requirement to provide voter ID, so make sure to bring it with you to your local polling station. Check what photo ID is accepted on the Electoral Commission website.


Can’t get to a polling station on the day? You can apply to vote by post or nominate a trusted person to cast your vote for you (this is called a proxy vote). You need to register for these alternatives in advance.

You can find more information including where your local polling station is on the Electoral Commission website. 


  1. Electoral Commission Website
  2. BBC Article – Local Elections 2024
  3. UK Parliament Website
  4. Website