Your voice in a vote: a student’s guide to voting

Written by Issy Gosse, third year Psychology student

Primary page content

With a general election now confirmed to be taking place on 12 December 2019, it’s important to register to vote and think about how you want your voice heard.

Whether you’re a first-time voter or an old hand at voting, it can be confusing and feel quite overwhelming. So here’s my handy guide to help clear up any questions you might have.

Can I vote?

To vote in a UK general election you must:

  • be registered to vote
  • be 18 or over on the day of the election (‘polling day’)
  • be a British, Irish or qualifying Commonwealth citizen
  • 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

How do I register to vote?

Registering to vote is simple and takes just five minutes – you can register to vote online.

You only need to register once, however if you have changed your name, address or nationality, you need to update your registration.

You must register by midnight on Tuesday 26 November 2019 to vote in the 2019 General Election.

Find out more about voting and registering to vote

If you are unsure if you’ve already registered to vote, contact your local Electoral Registration Office


As a student, where can I vote?

You can register at both your home address and your term-time address, but you can only vote once in a general election. 

As the 12 December voting date is so close to university term ending, you may have already travelled home. However, you can still apply for a postal vote if you decide to vote in your term-time constituency, or vice versa if you want to vote at home but will still be based at your term-time address. 

For example, you may decide it’s tactically better to vote in one constituency than the other. Information on where your vote could have more power can be found on the Guardian website.


Why should I vote?

1. It’s quick and easy

By voting, you can support a candidate who will represent your views in Parliament, influence policies and raise local issues to the government. Quickly popping down to the polling station on Thursday 12 December is a lot easier than many other ways of participating in politics.

2. No vote = no say

By not voting, you’re not changing anything. Not voting means you don’t have a say in where your money is being spent or cut by the government, you don’t have a say about the NHS, you don’t have a say about tuition fees – you don’t have a say, period.

3. Your vote can change everything

Previous years have seen constituencies won and lost by one or two votes. This is your chance to hold or swing your constituency from one party to another, or elect a brand new candidate.

4. It is your right to vote

People have died for the right to vote, and in some countries people are still dying to have their voice heard. It is a privilege to be able to live in a democratic society, so exercise your right!

5. “But there’s nothing I’d vote for”

You don’t have to like politics, politicians or parties – if you really don’t like anything, spoil your paper and let politicians know there was nothing to vote for! No vote means no change. 

How does voting work?

On polling day, you will cast your vote at a polling station, or if you are doing a postal vote, you will have received your ballot to vote beforehand. A postal vote will have a date for when to return it by in order for it to be counted.

You vote once for a candidate in your constituency and the candidate with the most votes becomes your MP (Member of Parliament) in the House of Commons.

You can only vote to elect your local MP in a general election – you cannot vote for a new Prime Minister. This means it’s important to vote for the party your views align with. As we’ve seen in previous years, the Prime Minister doesn’t always stay on for their whole term or reflect ‘who was voted in’.

The political party that wins the most seats in the House of Commons at a general election usually forms the new government, providing it wins 326 seats or more, and its leader becomes Prime Minister. If the winning party fails to win 326 seats or more, it will likely attempt to form a coalition government with another party or try and govern as a minority.

Who should I vote for?

Who you decide to vote for is completely up to you. You shouldn’t feel pressured into voting for someone, and you should vote for the candidate/party your views align with the most. Your local MPs will have information online around their views, policies and issues they want to tackle if you vote for them.

Before voting it’s useful to read MP manifestos, as well as party manifestos. There are sometimes televised debates, talks on radio shows, as well as manifesto comparison websites, which can all help you make an informed decision.

Voting is your democratic right, so make sure you use it, and use it wisely!