Our ‘European election for dummies’ guide

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Polling Station sign vote

Confused by this week’s European elections? Then let us assist with our (slightly patronising) European election guide for idiots.

On Thursday 23 May, the UK will take part in the European elections to decide who represents the country in the European parliament in Brussells.

The parliament is part of the European Union (EU) – an organisation of 28 countries that trade together and follow the same rules.

What are the European elections?

Between 23 – 26 May, millions of people across the EU will vote to elect Members to the European Parliament (MEPs).

MEPs are responsible for approving law and representing members of the public. The UK will elect 73 MEPs and the results of the vote will be declared on 26 May.

How do we vote?

Unlike a general election, the country is carved up into regional voting areas.

Rather than hundreds of constituencies, the UK is divided into 12 parts. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are represented as whole nations while England is divided up into nine regions.

Bedford Borough is within the Eastern Region of the United Kingdom.

MEP Grid 2019
All of the 2019 Eastern region candidates

The Eastern region elects seven MEPs. Parties will usually list the maximum of seven candidates but are allowed to list fewer. Independent candidates are also listed on the ballot paper separately.

As a voter, you don’t pick and choose between individual MEP candidates. You have just one vote and use it to choose one party, or one independent, marking the box with an X.

This year’s election sees the emergence of new parties, notably Change UK and the Brexit Party.

How the counting works

To add to the confusion, the way votes are counted in a European election is different to a general election too.

A system called d’Hondt is used, with the aim of proportional allocation of seats.

The total number of votes for each party in each region are counted and then put in order. The party at the top gets seat number one. That is allocated to the candidate at the top of its list.

The winning party’s vote total is then halved and the whole list is looked at again.

Whichever party is on top of this reordered list gets the next seat. That may well be the same party that won the first seat, if it has secured enough support, or it may be another party.

The party at the top of the second list (if it is a different party) then gets its vote total divided in half and the process is repeated. (If the same party has just won twice, the division is by three).

This goes on until all the seats in the region are filled. Parties with less support may never reach the top and won’t win a seat. Chances vary depending on the size of the region.

That’s Numberwang. (10 points if you got that reference).

Why is the UK taking part?

The UK was not due to take part in the elections because it was supposed to have already let the EU on 29 March. The EU has now given the UK until 31 October to find a solution.

As the UK is still a member of the EU, it has to take part in the elections.

If the British Parliament manages to agree a deal before the next EU Parliament session begins in July, however, the newly elected MEPs from the UK will no longer take part.

When and where do we vote?

Voting takes place on Thursday 23 May and you can find your polling station at the link: where to vote or use the polling station location map.