Today, Thursday June 23, the UK goes to the polls to decide if we are to remain as part of the European Union, or to leave.
Why are we voting?
The UK’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, promised to hold a referendum on EU membership if the Conservatives won the 2015 general election, following calls from UKIP and some of his own Tory MPs who believe that the UK would be better off out of the EU.
What is the EU?
The EU - or European Union - is an economic and political partnership of 28 European countries. Formerly the European Economic Community, it began after the Second World War to encourage economic co-operation between the countries of Europe rather than have them opposed to each other as they had been for the earlier part of the 20th Century. The member countries now form a “single market” allowing people and goods and people to move freely.
When are polling stations open from?
The vote runs from 7am to 10pm. Postal votes have already been sent and it is clearly too late to post it anyway but if you didn’t get yours in the post you can still take your vote to your local polling station.
Where is my local polling station?
Your local polling station will be listed on your poll card. If you don’t have, or can’t find your poll card you need to contact your local authority directly.
Who is eligible to vote?
Eligible to vote are British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens resident in the UK, along with UK nationals living abroad who have been on the electoral register in the UK in the past 15 years. The age limit is like any General Election i.e. over the age of 18 - unlike the recent Scottish independence referendum, which permitted 16-year-olds to have their say.
How does voting work?
Unlike many elections with their myriad candidates, there are two simple options: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” Check the box of your choice, with the pencil provided, or using your own pen if you wish.
Any paper which is blank, or containing two crosses, or with the cross outside the box, will be counted as a spoilt ballot. Once done, fold your paper and pop it in the ballot box. The staff will be happy to instruct you.
If you can’t find your polling card, don’t worry. You can still vote as long as you are on the electoral register.
When polls close at 10pm, the ballot boxes are taken from the polling stations to one of 382 regional voting centres. Each vote will be verified, meaning that the turnout can be announced. The votes are then counted and the totals transferred to regional counting centres. If there is a large turnout - the prediction is as high as 80 per cent - then as long as you are at your local polling station by 10pm, you will still get to cast your vote.
The results themselves will start to arrive on Friday morning from 4am and the result should be known sometime after 7am. No exit polls have been commissioned due to concerns over their accuracy following some poor predictions in recent votes.
The result will be declared by the chairman of the Electoral Commission and the chief counting officer at Manchester Town Hall.
When all votes are counted, again, unlike most elections, the referendum is a straight yes/no decision. Whichever side has more than half of the total votes cast will be deemed the winner’. If the vote is to remain then things stay broadly as they are at the moment and the debate will be over what David Cameron achieved with his new deal with the EU. If ‘Leave’, well, that is a whole new debate...