Northern Ireland

General Election: First-time voters’ guide to the July 4 Westminster poll

You can vote in elections if you are on the electoral register and aged 18 or over on polling day

Labour continues to enjoy a strong lead in the latest average opinion poll ratings ahead of the General Election on July 4
Polling places are usually located in local schools, church halls or public buildings (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The general election takes place on Thursday July 4, but what’s the craic with registering to vote and where do I go to vote?

From selfies to first past the post here’s everything you need to know to successfully cast your vote.

How do elections work?

Depending on the election, you could be asked to vote for your local councillor, your MLA, MP or in a referendum on a specific issue. The July 4 poll is a general election where Members of Parliament will be elected.

You can vote in Northern Ireland if you are on the electoral register and are aged 18 or over on polling day.

You can vote in person, at a polling station, by post or by proxy.

What am I voting for in the upcoming election?

On Thursday July 4 the Northern Ireland electorate will be voting in the UK Parliamentary elections, also known as the Westminster election, or a General Election.

Every constituency in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland votes to elect one Member of Parliament (MP) to represent them in the House of Commons at Westminster.

There are 650 geographical areas, called constituencies. Northern Ireland has 18, each with one MP.

Which Northern Ireland parties are fielding candidates in the 18 constituencies?

Northern Ireland’s electoral candidates consist of the five main Stormont parties, smaller political parties and a number of independent candidates who do not belong to a particular party.

As it stands Sinn Fein and the DUP hold seven seats each.

The DUP previously held eight seats, one of which belonged to former party leader Jeffrey Donaldson who is not standing in this election. He was suspended from the party and is contesting historic sexual offence charges.

The remaining seats belong to SDLP (two) and Alliance Party (one)

Do Sinn Fein take their seats as MPs in Westminster?

Sinn Fein emerged as the largest party in Northern Ireland during the most recent Assembly election and will be hoping to repeat that result.

Sinn Fein MPs are elected on an abstentionist ticket, refusing to pledge allegiance to the British crown and take their seats in Westminster.

How do I register to vote?

Before you can vote you need to join the electoral register.

You can check Am I Registered by entering a few details on the Electoral Office website.

If you’re not on the register you have until 11.59pm on Tuesday June 18 to sign up.

Visit the Register to vote section of the EONI website and complete the form online or print of a paper copy to submit.

Where do I go to vote?

Polling places are usually located in schools, church halls or public buildings.

If you’re on the electoral register, shortly after the election is announced you will receive a poll card which includes the following information:

  • your electoral number
  • your electoral area
  • the date and opening hours of the polling station
  • the location of your polling station
  • a list of acceptable identity documents
  • instructions for voting
  • the number of the EONI Helpline

Poll cards are for information purposes only – they are not required to vote but are handy to bring with you to the polling station.

What documents do I bring to the polling station?

When you vote at a polling station you will be required to produce one of the following documents to confirm your identity:
  • A UK, Irish or EEA driving licence
  • A UK or Irish passport including the Irish Passport Card
  • An Electoral Identity Card
  • A Translink SmartPass
  • A Biometric Immigration Document

Staff will check your name and address and photographic ID before they give you a ballot paper.

How do I cast my vote on election day?

Each eligible voter has one vote. Pen or pencil can be used on the ballot paper – they are usually supplied so there is no need to bring your own.

Simply mark an X in the box next to the candidate you wish to see elected.

The candidate with the most votes becomes the MP for that area. This voting system is called ‘first past the post’.

All polling stations open at 7am and close at 10pm.

How will I vote if I can’t attend the polling station on July 4?

There are two options for those on holiday or unable to attend their local polling station on the day.

You can complete a postal vote - where your ballot paper is posted to you in advance to complete and return to the EONI - or a proxy vote, where you appoint someone you trust to vote on your behalf in your allocated polling station.

The deadline to register for either is 5pm on June 14

Can I take a selfie in the polling station?

No selfies are allowed inside a polling station with the Electoral Commission saying it risks the secrecy of the ballot.

However, people are welcome to take photos outside.

Most importantly, can I bring my dog to the polling station?

Journalists and photographers love to see your furry friends on election day but, apart from assistance dogs, pet dogs are not usually allowed inside polling stations.

However, dogs can be admitted at the discretion of the local authority or simply stay outside while you cast your vote.

What happens after the votes are counted?

Any party with more than half the MPs (326) in the House of Commons usually forms the UK government.

If no party has a majority of MPs, the one with the most can form a coalition - or partnership - with one or more other parties to gain control.

The leader of the party who tops the polls will become prime minister, with the leader of the second biggest party becoming the head of the opposition.

Since the Second World War, all the governments in the UK have been formed by either the Labour Party or the Conservative Party.

After 14 years of Conservative rule, Keir Starmer’s Labour has been consistently ahead in the polls since the start of 2022 - meaning we could see a new Labour Government in the UK.