Fun facts about general elections

Impress your friends and family with these top 10 things that they might not know about elections

Laura Burley

Originally published in Green World 88

1. The term 'gerrymandering', which refers to the re-drawing of voter districts for partisan gain, was coined in 1812. When Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry re-worked the boundaries in his favour, one district was said to resemble a salamander, leading the Boston Gazette to coin the portmanteau.

2. Georgiana Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire in the 18th century, didn't let her inability to vote stop her from becoming a political icon. Active more than a century before women's suffrage became a political issue, she canvassed for the Whigs and supposedly sold kisses for votes. So the next time you're tired out campaigning, remember that at least you don't have to kiss potential voters!

3. Sunderland's vote counters are super-speedy. For the past five general elections, an area in Sunderland has been the first to declare. In 2010, it was Houghton and Sunderland South, at 10.52pm. In a bid to make counting even faster, they changed from 100-gramme paper ballots to those weighing 80 grammes.

4. Citizens of the Republic of Ireland can vote (alongside Commonwealth nationals) in general elections if they are resident in the UK.

5. General elections have traditionally been held on a Thursday since the 1930s. The several reasons suggested for this include that it was thought workers would be too drunk to vote on Friday, which was pay-day, and a Sunday vote would have disrupted church-going! Markets were commonly held on a Thursday, however, therefore bringing large numbers of people into town. Following the Fixed-term Parliaments Act of 2011, general elections are now required by law to take place on the first Thursday in May.

6. In a by-election in Clifton North in Nottingham last year, the Lib Dems were beaten into sixth place by the Elvis Bus Pass Party, by 67 votes to 56. The party has also gone by the name of the Church of the Militant Elvis Party and the Elvis Loves Pets Party.

7. Fermanagh and South Tyrone in Northern Ireland is the UK's most marginal constituency. It was won by Sinn Fein's Michelle Gildernew by just four votes, subsequently reduced to one after a challenge in court concluded that three votes could not be accounted for. The bellwether seat of Thurrock, Essex is the third most marginal constituency. It was won by the Tories in 2010 by just 92 votes. This is the area that UKIP are strongest in, so this could be a future three-way marginal.

8. The result in Scotland in 2010 was identical to 2005 in terms of which parties won which seats. Labour regained the two seats it had lost in mid-term by-elections. It seems the Vote for Change campaign did not get its message across successfully.

9. The first woman to be elected to Parliament was Constance Markievicz in 1918, but she did not take her seat. Instead, along with the other Sinn Fein MPs, she formed the Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Irish legislature.

10. Almost 100 years after Constance Markievicz blazed a path, this year, Emily Brothers, the first ever blind, transgender woman is standing as a candidate for Labour in Sutton and Cheam.