To mark the UK general election on 7th May 2015, here are a few things I’ve found out about voting in the UK (including its history):
1. From 1265 to 1832, fewer than 1 in 10 adult males had the right to vote.
2. The secret ballot wasn’t introduced to the UK until 1872.
3. It wasn’t until 1918 that women (over the age of 30) were allowed to vote. The same year, men over 21 were allowed to vote.
4. From 1918, women over the age of 21 were allowed to stand for election.
5. In 1928, voting was extended to women over 21.
6. Nancy Astor is often believed to be the first woman MP in 1919. She was the first to sit in the Commons, but actually the second female MP elected. The first woman to be elected as an MP was Constance Markievicz in 1918. As she was a member of Sinn Féin (a party fighting for Irish independence), she declined the opportunity to sit in the House of Commons.
7. In 1969, the voting age was lowered to 18. Although it currently remains at that level, 16 and 17 year olds were allowed to vote in the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence.
8. Versions of proportional representation are used for elections to the assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (as well as the London Assembly and for European elections), but not for the UK Parliament which holds onto the ‘First Past the Post’ system, despite much criticism and a referendum in 2011.
9. In the last parliament, only 148 of 650 MPs were women.
10. You can bring children or a pet with you when you vote.
11. You aren’t allowed to discuss your vote at the polling station or tweet about it while there. You may be allowed to take a selfie, but it’s not recommended as you may break laws around the secrecy of the ballot.
12. You don’t have to use an X to mark your ballot paper. A tick or a smiley face will be accepted, but don’t sign your name (that also breaks secret ballot laws).