The U.K. election system

Maybe you didn’t notice it since you’re living in England, but the presidential election campaign is going on in the States. And apparently it’s quite a humdinger!

While Arizona Sen. John McCain awaits the official Republican nomination, Democratic Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Clinton of New York keep slugging it out state by state, bringing super delegates and other heretofore obscure electoral pieces of U.S. democracy to the American consciousness.

So, we know how the whole electoral process works in the States, but what about here in Britain? Maybe this briefing will help.

In Parliament, the House of Commons is the closest thing to the U.S. legislative system. The House of Lords is full of men and women appointed to their positions and not elected on a ballot.

The House of Commons has 659 constituencies, or seats, according to, a voter assistance group.

There are 529 seats for England, 72 for Scotland, 40 for Wales and 18 for Northern Ireland.

Parliamentary seats can be held for a maximum of five years.

The leader of the party with the most seats after an election is named the prime minister. Right now that vaunted seat is held by Gordon Brown, who took over leadership of the dominant Labour Party after Tony Blair ceded power last year.

The prime minister must call for an election at least once every five years, but is free to call for one earlier.

The last parliamentary election, known as a general election, was held in 2005.

In these races, voters choose from a pool of candidates from varying political parties and independent candidates. It’s not unlike the voting process in the States.

At the local level, residents vote for council members, essentially by ward, to represent them on a county board, according to a fact sheet from the Lancashire County Council. The counties are divided into electoral divisions and one councillor is elected for each division. In wards with multiple members, the top one to three councillor candidates win seats.

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