Juan:'So what do people do on the day of the election here? Where do they vote?'
Peter:'To vote here, you have to go to a polling station.'
Juan:'It's called that! I thought a poll was a prediction of who people would vote for.'
Peter:'It is, but for some reason they call the place where people vote a polling station. Normally, the polling station will be in a school hall or in a church.'
Juan:'So, they go there and vote?'
Peter:'Yeah. When they are in the polling station, they are given a ballot. Which is a piece of paper where they mark which political candidate they want to vote for. After they have done that, they then put their ballot into a ballot box. When they've done that, they've voted and they leave.'
Juan:'How do they know how many people who could vote, have voted?'
Peter:'The turnout for the election is calculated by the polling stations counting how many people they have given ballots to. In some elections the turnout could be low (e.g. 35% of all people who have the right to vote, actually vote). Whereas in other elections, voter turnout can be a lot higher (e.g. around 70%).'
Juan:'So, after they've closed the polling stations and finished counting the votes/ballots. How do they decide how many seats in parliament to give to the different political parties? Is the number of seats calculated on the percentage of votes each political party gets. So if the Conservative Party gets 40% of all the votes in the election, they get 40% of the seats in parliament?'
Peter:'That type of electoral system (where seats are given to a political party based on the percentage of all votes they received) is called proportional representation, but it isn't used in most elections in Britain (apart from elections for the European Parliament and some elections in Scotland and Wales).
For elections in the British Parliament, we use a electoral system called first-past-the-post. Each seat in parliament is for a specific part of the country (e.g. there's a seat for a town or for a part of a big city). The candidate who gets the most votes in that specific part, wins the seat in parliament for there.'
Juan:'So a political party could get 15% of all the votes in the country, but if none of its candidates get as many votes as those from other political parties in the places where each seat in parliament comes from, it would mean that they would have no seats in parliament?'
Peter:'In an electoral system which is first-past-the-post, that could happen.'
Juan:'So, I suppose the political party that wins the most seats in parliament becomes the government of the country?'
Peter:'That's right. If one political party has more seats in parliament than all the other political parties put together, they become what is called a majority government.'
Juan:'And if one political party doesn't have more seats than all the other political parties combined?'
Peter:'Then two or more political parties have to agree to run the government together. When this happens, it is called a coalition government.'