In or out? British voters head to polls in historic referendum on EU membership

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British Prime Minister David Cameron addresses students and pro-EU 'Vote Remain' supporters during his final campaign speech at Birmingham University on June 22, 2016 in Birmingham, United Kingdom. (Photo by Geoff Caddick - WPA Pool /Getty Images)

LONDON — Voters headed to the polls Thursday in a historic referendum on Britain’s future membership in the European Union.

A record number of people — almost 46.5 million — are registered to take part in the once-in-a generation vote.

The registered voters include Britons from England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar — a British territory off the southern coast of Spain.

The question they’ve been pondering for months: Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

British citizens over age 18, along with Irish and Commonwealth citizens living in Britain, are expected to deliver their verdict at the ballot box Thursday. British citizens living abroad have already cast their votes by mail.

Polling stations across the UK opened at 7 a.m. local time (2 a.m. ET) and will close at 10 p.m. (5 p.m. ET), with the first results expected about midnight (7 p.m. ET).

The final, nationwide result is expected to be announced Friday morning.

The UK has been a member of the European Union (and its precursors) since 1973.

European citizens living in the UK are not eligible to vote unless they’re from Malta or Cyprus, which are both members of the Commonwealth. Members of Britain’s House of Lords are eligible to vote — even if they cannot cast ballots in general elections.

Once the results are in, they will be announced by region rather than by constituency. The 12 regions comprise Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, London and eight English regions.

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