In Britain, a general election takes place at least every five years, when the electorate (= all the people in the country who can vote) vote for the 659 Members of Parliament or MPs in the House of Commons. Each MP represents a constituency, which is an area of the country with a roughly equal number of people (about 90 000 people) and is expected to be interested in the affairs of the constituency and to represent the interests of local people. If an MP dies or resigns, a by-election is held in the constituency he or she represented. Before an election one person is chosen by each of the main political parties to be their candidate. Independent candidates, who do not belong to a political party, can also stand for election. Each candidate has to leave a deposit of £500 with the returning officer, the person responsible for managing the election, which is returned to them if they win more than 5% of the votes, otherwise they lose their deposit. Before an election, candidates campaign for support in their constituency and local party workers spend their time canvassing, going from house to house to ask people about how they intend to vote. At the national level the parties spend a lot of money on advertising and media coverage. They cannot buy television time, but each party is allowed a number of strictly timed party political broadcasts.Anyone over the age of 18 has the right to vote at elections, provided they are on the electoral register (= list of adults in a constituency). Voting is not compulsory but the turnout (= number of people who vote) at general elections is usually high, about 75%. On the day of the election, called polling day, voters go to a polling station, often in a local school or church hall, and are given a ballot paper. The ballot paper lists all the candidates for that constituency and the parties they represent. The voter goes into a polling booth, where nobody can see what they are writing, and puts a cross next to the name of one candidate only. After the polls close, the ballot papers are taken to a central place to be counted. Counting usually takes place on the same day as the election, continuing late into the night if necessary. If the number of votes for two candidates is very close, they can demand a recount. Only the candidate who gets the most votes in each constituency is elected. This system is called first past the post. The winning party, which forms the next government, is the one that wins most seats in Parliament (= has the most MPs).In the US, elections are held regularly for President of the US, for both houses of Congress and for state and local government offices. Candidates usually run for office with the support of one of the two main political parties, the Republicans or the Democrats, although anyone wanting to run as an independent can organize a petition and ask people to sign it. Some people also run as write-in candidates: they ask voters to add their name to the ballot when they vote. A large amount of money is spent on election campaigning, where candidates try to achieve name recognition (= making their names widely known) by advertising on television, in newspapers and on posters. They take part in debates and hold rallies where they give speeches and go round ‘pressing the flesh’, shaking hands with as many voters as possible.Only a person over 35 who was born in the US can run for President. Presidential elections are held every four years and early in election year, the political parties choose their candidates through a series of primary elections held in each state. As these races take place it gradually becomes clear which candidates are the strongest and in the summer each party holds a convention to make the final choice of candidates for President and Vice-President. In November, the people go to vote and although the President is said to be directly elected, the official vote is made by an electoral college. Each state has a certain number of electors in the college based on the state’s population. All the electors from a state must vote for the candidate who got the most votes in the state, and the candidate with at least 270 votes out of 538 becomes President. After the election, the new President goes to Washington for the inauguration on 20 January, and takes the oath of office.Americans over the age of 18 have the right to vote, but only about half of them take part in presidential elections and voter turnout for other elections is even lower. On election day, voters go to polling stations where they first have to sign their name in a book that lists all the voters in the precinct (= area) and then cast a vote. Some states use computerized voting systems and in others voters pull down a metal lever beside the name of the person they want to vote for which operates a mechanical counter. It is possible to select all the candidates from one party, which is called voting a straight ticket, but many voters choose candidates from both parties and vote a split ticket. Journalists and pollsters are allowed to ask people how they voted and these exit polls help to predict election results. However, the results of exit polls may not be announced until polling stations everywhere have closed, in case they influence the result.
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