It's Election Day in Britain, which can be both appealing and confusing for American political junkies who aren't familiar with how things work across the pond.
In some ways, it's reminiscent of democracy in the United States, while in other ways it feels very, well, foreign. Here are nine things to know about the British election and how it compares to the United States.
(And as always, those interested should definitely be watching CSPAN -- which carries a live
BBC ITV feed -- starting at poll-closing time at 5 p.m. Eastern.)
The British campaign season began after the first American presidential candidate announced his campaign, and it will end before most U.S. candidates even launch their bids. The U.S. election season, from when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) announced his candidacy until Election Day 2016, will have lasted more than a year and a half, compared with the 38 days between the queen's dissolution of Parliament on March 30 and Thursday's voting.
Sounds terrible, right?
In the U.S. Congress, there are only two members out of 535 who are not Democrats or Republicans, and they caucus with the Democrats. In Parliament, it takes more than two hands to count every party with a seat. It's not just Conservative and Labor. There's the Respect Party! The Alliance Party! The Green Party! Even something called UKIP.
Here's where Parliament stood before it was dissolved:
With only two major parties in the United States, either one gets the majority in the House or Senate or the other one does. It's pretty simple. But in Britain, getting a majority hasn't been that easy. It takes 326 seats to have a majority in Parliament, and in the last election, in 2010, no party reached that number. The Conservative party got the closest, with 306 seats.
Recent forecasts and polls suggested a close race, with FiveThirtyEight (which we would argue should be renamed SixFifty just for today) projecting that Conservatives would retain the most seats but would lose ground.
— FiveThirtyEight (@FiveThirtyEight) May 6, 2015
In the event that no party gets a majority (the term for that is a "hung Parliament," and it's quite likely), the leader of the party with the most members of Parliament has to try to put together a coalition government with another, (likely) more minor party. Bipartisanship!
The leaders of each party do debate, but voters aren't casting ballots for them as they would for a president -- at least not directly.
The leader of the party with majority support in Parliament becomes prime minister. That means a party leader either needs to have 326 seats or put together a coalition to become prime minister. The leaders of the three biggest parties are the Liberal Democrats' Nick Clegg, Labor's Ed Miliband and the Conservatives' David Cameron, who is currently prime minister. Either Miliband or Cameron should be the next prime minister.
It's not a perfect comparison, but Republicans are closer to the Conservatives and UKIP, while Democrats are similar to Labor and the Liberal Democrats. Other parties are regional, like the Scottish National Party, Sinn Fein (Northern Ireland) and Plaid Cymru (Wales).
Indeed, as our own Dan Balz reports, the fate of Conservatives could provide some lessons for Republicans.
Bemoan Hillary Clinton's trip to Chipotle all you want, but it's like that everywhere, judging by some of the stories coming out of Britain. Our Adam Taylor has a good rundown of the memes that have come out of the election there, including a photo of Labor Party leader Ed Miliband looking awkward while eating a sandwich.
Ed Miliband says he does not care about reaction to him eating a bacon sandwich or Wallace and Gromit comparisons. http://t.co/egXn9Uzn4S
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) July 27, 2014
America has its share of political dynasties. But while the United States is facing the possibility of a Bush vs. Clinton II, Labor leader Ed Miliband actually beat out his brother, David, for party leader. It's as if Jeb and George W. were both running for the Republican nomination at the same time.
In the event that no party gets a majority, it could take some time for a coalition government to form. It took five days in 2010. If no agreement can be reached, either other parties will try, or another election will be held.
So even if you're watching the results roll in tonight, don't expect to go to bed knowing who's going to be in charge.