On Thursday millions of people will head to the polls to cast their vote in the 2015 General Election.

Over the past few months party leaders and would-be MPs have been campaigning to win the support of their constituents, with this year's general election said to be one of the closest races in decades.

To help you understand what your vote is worth and how a Prime Minister is elected, we've put together a guide to the General Election.

The Examiner team will be liveblogging the Huddersfield and Calder Valley General Election counts on Thursday May 7 and you can read about the party pledges and get the latest results from our dedicated webpage.

When is the General Election?

The 2015 General Election will take place on Thursday May 7.

Who can vote?

In order to vote in the election, British citizens (and citizens of EU countries living in the UK) must register to vote by submitting their details to the electoral roll, via the government website or your local electoral registration office (usually the council offices). Voters can register aged 16, but cannot vote until they are 18. The deadline for voter registration was Monday April 20 — if you did not register by that date you won't be able to vote in this election.

A polling station
A polling station

How do I vote?

Once registered, you can vote at a polling station - or if you already registered before April 28 - by post, or by proxy (allowing someone else to vote for you).

  • Voting at a polling station: Polling stations are often schools or local halls near your address — you will receive a poll card before the election telling you where to vote and what time the polling station is open (usually 7am-10pm). You do not need to take your poll card to the station to vote.
    Voters tell polling station staff their name and address then cast their vote via a ballot paper in a private booth. The ballot paper gives instructions on how to indicate your vote for your chosen candidate. You then fold your ballot paper in half and place it in the ballot box.
  • Voting by post: Votes can also be cast by post — however, the application deadline for postal voting was Tuesday April 28 — if you did not apply for a postal vote before the deadline, you will be unable to vote by post. Postal voters have their ballot papers posted out to them, along with envelopes and address stickers so their vote is posted to the correct address. Postal votes must arrive by 10pm on the day of the election — postal votes that arrive later than this will not be counted.
  • Voting by proxy — Voters can also apply to allow someone they trust to vote on their behalf. You can apply to vote by proxy online or via your local electoral registration office. The deadline for proxy vote applications for this year's general election was Tuesday April 28.

Who can I vote for?

Who you can vote for in a general election depends on which candidates are running to become a member of parliament in your constituency. In England, there are five main parties and several minor parties, and independent candidates — attached to no party — may also run for election. The main parties are the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the Green Party. In Huddersfield, minor parties include the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition and in the Calder Valley, the World Peace Through Song Party.

You are not voting for the leader of each party, but your constituency's candidate to become a member of parliament — for example, David Cameron is the leader of the Conservative Party and its chosen candidate for Prime Minister, but in Huddersfield the Conservative candidate is Itrat Ali and a Conservative vote would support her bid to become Huddersfield's MP.

Huddersfield general election candidates
Huddersfield general election candidates
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What are constituencies?

Constituencies are the geographical area an elected member of parliament represents. The areas are decided by Boundary Commissions in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The United Kingdom is divided into 650 constituencies: 533 in England, 59 in Scotland, 40 in Wales and 18 in Northern Ireland. The size of each constituency differs across the UK but the electorate in each constituency has a median total of 72,400 in England, 69,000 in Scotland, 66,800 in Northern Ireland and 56,800 in Wales.

How many constituencies does a party need to win a majority?

Elected MPs will represent their constituency in parliament, but for one party to form a majority government and put its manifesto into action, it needs to win more than half (326) of the 650 constituency seats in the House of Commons. By winning the majority of the seats, the party will have enough supports for its policies and proposed legislations during votes.

When are the votes counted?

Counting of votes begins when the polls close (10pm). By law, counts are required to begin within four hours of polls closing. Ballot papers are verified then counted to determine which candidate has received the most votes and will be elected as the MP for their constituency.

Local election count at Cathedral House, Huddersfield
Local election count at Cathedral House, Huddersfield

When will the results be announced?

General Election results are announced overnight after the polls have closed, with the earliest results estimated to be announced at around 11pm, and the latest at around 1pm on Friday May 8.

Councils have given estimated times for the results to be announced:

  • Huddersfield: 4.30am
  • Colne Valley: 4.30am
  • Dewsbury: 4.30am
  • Batley and Spen: 4.30am
  • Calder Valley: 5am

However, if the results in a constituency are particularly close, candidates can request a recount — which will delay the result announcement.

What if no one party wins a majority?

If no one party manages to win 326 seats, and a majority, a hung parliament is declared.

If there is a hung parliament, there are two possibilities of what will happen next:

  • Two or more parties will agree to work together as a coalition, combining their won seats to establish a majority;
  • The party with the most seats can try to form a government with a minority of seats in the House of Commons. However, if the party cannot get support on an important vote, it risks defeat, which may result in another general election.

When will the new Parliament sit?

The new parliament will be summoned on Monday 18 May, and a new Speaker of the House of Commons elected. MPs are then sworn in.

What happens next?

The Queen's Speech, which lays out the new government's proposed policies, is due on Wednesday May 27, as part of the State Opening of Parliament.

After the speech, the Commons will debate the proposed policies before MPs vote to show a motion of confidence in the new government. If that vote is lost, so is the new government's mandate and another election may be triggered.

However, if the government wins the vote, it will begin working to put its plans into action.