Britons abroad surveyed about voting rights
Do you plan to vote in the next general elections? Would you vote by post, proxy or in person? If you voted in the past, have you experienced any problems?
The British in Europe coalition is running a survey among UK citizens living abroad – not only in Europe – on the possibility to exercise their voting right in the future.
The survey, available at this link, will be used to inform the UK government as it prepares secondary legislation on voting procedures for Britons abroad.
New electoral law
A law passed last year, the Elections Act 2022, restored the lifelong right to vote for Britons overseas. The new law removed the rule which did not permit their participation in elections if they had lived abroad for more than 15 years. It is estimated overseas voter registrations could increase by some 3 million as a result.
The law concerns UK parliamentary elections and national referendums only, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, nor local councils.
However, secondary legislation has to be passed to determine how to register in the electoral roll and how to vote. British in Europe expects the government will propose a draft this semester and the parliament will adopt it before summer so that registrations can begin in the autumn.
“We need to understand the difficulties people may face in the electoral procedures,” Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of British in Europe told Europe Street. “In addition, if millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post offices and authorities that will manage the process. The government needs to be prepared for that,” she added.
Previous UK residence
The new law abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. But it requires to register as a voter in the last place of residence in the UK.
This means having to prove to have lived in the UK, which may not be simple. “When moving internationally, people tend to keep documents such as school reports, which are not accepted as a proof of residence, while they may trash utility and phone bills, which are accepted,” Godfrey said.
Another change compared to the past is that the registration in the electoral roll will last up to three years instead of only one year.
UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election.
However, the Electoral Commission has recommended to vote by proxy as there have been problems with the postal vote in the past. If people have been abroad for a long time, or have lived in several places in the UK, however, it may be difficult to find a substitute in the constituency, British in Europe warn.
Godfrey, who lives in Luxembourg, said: “The law is not perfect. For instance, my daughter, who studies in the UK, will be able to vote if she moves abroad in the future. But my son, who is British but has never lived in the UK, will not. However, with this survey we are trying to ensure that for people who can vote, the process will be as smooth and easy as possible”.
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