Will Tim Bowen win votes for his election-themed Your English? Get to the polling station to cast your vote!

Every four years it is time for the British electorate (citizens who are registered to vote in elections) to go to the polls (vote). The various political parties publish their manifestos (formal statements expressing their aims and plans) and then desperately try to woo (attract) floating voters (people who have not yet made up their mind which party to vote for). Politicians of every hue can be seen at the hustings (political speeches usually held in the open air in town centres), running down their opponents’ plans and trying to win votes by making extravagant promises. Large numbers of voters now opt for a postal vote rather than going in person to a polling station (a building where people can go to vote) to cast their vote in a secret ballot.

The United Kingdom is divided into constituencies (divisions of the country, each of which can elect a representative to parliament). Candidates wishing to stand for parliament must pay a deposit of £500 and forfeit that deposit if they receive fewer than 5% of the votes cast in the constituency in which they are standing (hoping to represent).

Election day in the UK is traditionally a Thursday and has been since 1935. Polling stations open at 07.00 and close at 22.00. Ballot papers (the slips of paper on which people vote) are collected in sealed boxes and taken to the constituency election count (place in the area where the votes are counted). Electoral rules require counting to begin within four hours of the polls closing. The first results are usually declared (anounced) around midnight in a few constituencies by the returning officer (the official responsible for organising the election in a particular constituency), although most results are declared between 3am and 5am. The overall result of the election is usually predicted long before this on the basis of exit polls (an informal way of forecasting the result by asking people who have just cast their vote who they voted for). At some point during the night, the overall result will become clear and the leader of the main losing party will concede defeat (admit that his or her main rival has won the election).

Elections may be  be a close-run contest (decided by just a few votes) and the result may depend on a few marginals (constituencies where the current MPs only have a very small majority). The end result may be a hung parliament (a parliament in which no single party has won enough votes to form a government), in which case the UK will probably be heading for a coalition government (a government formed by an agreement between two or more political parties). This is made more likely as a result of the UK’s first past the post electoral system (where only the candidate with the greatest number of votes is elected, even though he or she may have only a relatively small percentage of the total number of votes cast in a particular constituency).