The UK general election has finally arrived. Boris Johnson called the snap election just 49 days ago and the seemingly never-ending intervening period has seen UK politicians work themselves into a frenzy.
Offline we’ve had Boris Johnson snatching a reporter’s phone, melting ice sculptures, and hurtling through a polystyrene wall in a JCB. Online, things have been weirder.
Misinformation has been abundant: Jo Swinson had a problem with claims she liked to snuff squirrels, online accounts were rebranded to mimic fact checkers and NHS documents presented by Labour were first leaked online by what Reddit found was a Russia-linked account.
It may have all been too much to keep on top of. But as the polls open today, not everything is lost – especially if you’ve not decided on how you plan to use your vote yet. Before you head to the polls – they’re open between 07:00 and 22:00 – there are plenty of ways to get informed about the candidates that are standing in your area.
Are you registered to vote?
At this late stage, you should probably know if you’re registered to vote in the election. To be able to vote, you need to be on the UK’s electoral register. The deadline for new voters to register was November 26.
If you’re unsure whether you are registered, you can contact your local electoral registration office to find out. The government provides a post code finder tool that will direct you to the contact details for your election administrators.
Find your polling station
If you’re registered to vote, you should have received a voting card that details where your local polling station is. It is useful to take this along when you vote – to help with the administration process – but not essential. Not having the card won’t stop you being allowed to vote (nor do you need ID).
The one thing that you do need to ensure is that you’re at the polling station you are registered at. It’s not possible to vote at another location. If you’re not sure where your polling station is the UK-based non-partisan group Democracy Club has pulled data together to create: wheredoivote.co.uk. Enter your post code and it will provide you with the address of your polling station.
Who to vote for?
This is where things get trickier. We can’t tell you who to vote for but can point you in the direction of how to find out what you need to know to make an informed choice about the candidates in your local area. (Reminder: you don’t vote for party leaders, but for local representatives who are then elected as MPs).
With a lack of centralised information about candidates, it falls upon non-profit groups and volunteers to pull everything together in one place. Step forward, once again, Democracy Club. This time around it has created a website that lets you see all the candidates standing in your seat in one place. WhoCanIVoteFor allows you to see statements from each candidate, links to their social media accounts, any leaflets promoting their campaigns, and brief biographies of them.
There’s a good chance at least one of the people standing for election in your seat will have been an MP in the past. If you want to find out what they really stand for, the best thing to check is their voting record in the House of Commons. Civil society group mySociety runs TheyWorkForYou. Enter your post code or MP’s name and it will show you how they voted on issues from the welfare system to the European Union.
If you’re looking for what each party has planned if it wins the election the best place to look is their manifestos. You can find them here: Conservative manifesto, Labour manifesto, Lib Dem manifesto, Green manifesto, Brexit Party manifesto.
Check the advertising
Two days before the election, all political advertisements vanished from Facebook’s online archive. They’ve since been restored but the removal highlights the election’s difficulty with online advertising.
Despite the growth of online ads, paper leaflets are still key. Millions are spent on their production each election cycle. There’s no official government organisation tracking what happens with leaflets but the Democracy Club crowdsources images of leaflets that are being disseminated around the UK.
Can you trust tactical voting?
2019 has seen the emergence of co-ordinated tactical voting websites. The groups behind the sites and apps hope people in closely contested seats will consider voting for candidates that are most likely to achieve their desired Brexit outcome – even if they would not normally be their choice of party.
There are two big questions around tactical voting: will it work? And can you trust the tools that encourage it? In many cases detailed data and the methodologies behind tactical voting websites are opaque. If you’re considering tactical voting, you should read our guide to whether you can trust tactical voting in the election. And check the official election results from 2017 to see how each seat was contested.
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