How to vote in the general election

The 2010 General Election is has shaped up to be one of the most unusual, and potentially most important, in recent political history. The traditional two-party system, dominated by Labour and the Conservatives, is in danger of being torn apart by resurgent Liberal Democrats, buoyed as they are by a surge in leader Nick Clegg’s stock and a popular distrust of both of the alternatives.

The outcome of this election will have a tangible impact on British business, and on the economy as a whole. Each of the main parties take a different approach to business tax and regulation, meaning the day-to-day financial health of your firm could be affected by the election results. Similarly, with Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats all proposing different solutions to the country’s continuing economic malaise, the business environment could be determined by the country’s choice on May 6th.

Although turnout is forecast to be up this time around, a huge number of Britons do not exercise their right to vote on polling day. While apathy may be to blame in some cases, for many the reasons are simpler; polling stations may be difficult to get to, time off work is hard to secure, and it is often impossible to make other arrangements in time. So, as an over-worked business owner with very little time, how can you make sure that you vote at this crucial election?

When can you vote?

The election will be held on Thursday 6 May. The simplest way to vote is in person, at your local polling station. If you are registered to vote you will already have received a polling card giving details of your nearest station, along with a map. The deadline for voter registration has now passed; if you are not yet registered, you will not be able to vote on 6 May.

The polls will be open from 7am until 10pm, and you can vote at any time between these hours. Remember, though, that your polling station will be close to your home, rather than to your place of work – causing potential problems if you work some distance from where you live.

Cover and employee arrangements

Where possible, make sure that you arrange cover at work to enable you to vote. You may also need to reschedule meetings to ensure that you have enough time to get to and from the polling station. The voting process itself is very quick, provided that you do not have to queue.

It is also worth remembering that your employees may face the same problems, particularly if they work irregular or unusual hours. Although you have no legal obligation to do so, you may wish to consider allowing those whose polling station is far from your premises to take some time off to vote.

Postal and proxy voting

If it is impractical for you to get to a polling station on Election Day, there are alternatives ways of casting your vote.

Postal votes are popular among those who travel a lot, or who know that they will be away on polling day. If you have applied to vote by post (the deadline for applying has passed), you must make sure that your postal vote arrives by the end of polling – at 10pm on 6 May.

Proxy voting, unlike postal voting, involves you appointing a trusted individual to vote on your behalf. If you have registered for a proxy vote, your nominated voter must still place your vote at a polling station by 10pm on the day.

Finally, it is worth remembering that local government elections are also being held on 6 May – meaning that you will need to complete two separate ballot papers. If you are a European Union citizen living in the UK, you only have the right to vote in the local election; you will not receive a polling card for the General Election.

The 2010 General Election could potentially be a defining one for British politics. Where possible, ensure that you make suitable arrangements to enable yourself to exercise your right to vote if you so choose.


Still undecided?

Read the Labour party small business manifesto

Read the Liberal Democrats small business manifesto

Read the Conservative party small business manifesto

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