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Everything you need to know about the UK’s crucial election

Brits have been confronted with two drastically different visions for what comes next, and must decide between two very different men to lead them there.
Brexit, the all-consuming political behemoth that has brought the country to a standstill since 2016, has dominated discussions during the six-week campaign. But other issues such as healthcare, climate change, taxes and social care have also been center stage, and disputes between Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives and Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition Labour Party have been heated.
By Friday morning, we should know which side will form Britain’s next government.

Why is an election happening now?

In a word: Brexit.
Since former Prime Minister Theresa May’s disastrous gamble on a snap election in 2017 deprived her of a working majority in the House of Commons, Britain’s Parliament has been at a political standstill. That result prevented May from passing her Brexit deal three times and dealt Johnson a series of defeats over his own Brexit strategy.
The next election was not due to take place until 2022. But Johnson came to the same conclusion as May — that the only way out of the impasse was to hold an early vote in an attempt to seek a parliamentary majority in order to enact his Brexit plan.
Opposition lawmakers backed his call after weeks of debate, and set the date of Britain’s first December election since 1923.

Who’s going to win?

Johnson liked his chances of winning enough to call the election, and pollsters have consistently given him a lead over Corbyn throughout the campaign. The gap has narrowed slightly, but not enough to change most pundits’ predictions.
But we’ve been here before. The Conservatives were expected to win a landslide in 2017, but they lost seats. They were expected to finish neck and neck with Labour in 2015, but earned a comfortable victory.
Adding to the uncertainty for Johnson is that anything other than an outright win could see him locked out of Downing Street. Parties need at least 320 seats to command a majority in Parliament, and the Conservatives have few, if any, partners to help them out should they come up short.
Predicting British elections is a fool’s game, but most pundits agree that if the gap between Labour and the Conservatives ends up in the low-to-mid single digits, we could be in hung Parliament territory.
And a final projection from pollster YouGov on Tuesday concluded that the Tories’ lead had dropped significantly, giving a late boost to opposition parties hoping to oust Johnson.
In the UK, voters don’t elect a prime minister directly. Instead, they elect a member of parliament (MP) to represent their local constituency.
The leader of the party which wins a majority of the UK’s 650 constituencies automatically becomes Prime Minister. But if there’s no majority, they need to look for help elsewhere.

OK, what’s a hung Parliament?

In the UK, voters don’t elect a prime minister directly. Instead, they elect a member of parliament (MP) to represent their local constituency.
The leader of the party which wins a majority of the UK’s 650 constituencies automatically becomes Prime Minister. But if there’s no majority, they need to look for help elsewhere.
That’s the problem May was faced with when the 2017 election resulted in a hung Parliament. She struck a deal with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to prop up her minority government. Johnson likely won’t have the same luxury, having burned his bridges with the DUP by putting a customs border in the Irish sea as part of his Brexit deal.
Parties can also form an official coalition, as David Cameron did with the Liberal Democrats in 2010.
In the short-term, another hung Parliament would mean days of frantic negotiating as teams in both camps seek to find a path to power.
But Labour are the more natural bedfellows of virtually all opposition parties. If they can get over the line with a so-called “rainbow” coalition of several different parties, a second Brexit referendum becomes very likely, as that’s also the ambition of the Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats — who will be expected to finish as the third and fourth-biggest parties in Westminster at the end of the night.

When do we get the results?

Polls are open from 7 a.m. local time (2 a.m. ET) on Thursday until 10 p.m. The second they close, we get the first big moment of the night — the exit poll, which predicts a usually-accurate picture of where the votes have gone.
British elections are notoriously low-tech — voters mark an “X” on a sheet of paper with a stubby pencil and drop it into a box — so results take some time to come through. From about 11.00 p.m. we’ll get the first figures, and counting will continue through the night.
Brexit has thrown the UK’s traditional electoral map up in the air; Conservatives are targeting traditional Labour areas which voted to leave the EU, while Labour and the Liberal Democrats are hoping to capitalize on support in areas further south that had a large remain vote.
That all means that results can still surprise us, and a narrative of the night may not appear for some time. Still, by sunrise we usually know who’s heading to Downing Street.

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