UK Electoral Commission confirms “unacceptable” voting difficulties in EU elections

Large numbers of EU nationals living in the UK and British abroad have been denied the right to vote in the European parliament elections last May, the UK Electoral Commission has confirmed.

In a damning report published on Tuesday, the independent body overseeing electoral procedures said that around 450,000 EU nationals in the UK submitted the additional declaration required to vote in the EU elections of May 23. This represents just 21% of those who were registered for May’s local elections, while four in five EU citizens, or 1.7 million, did not submit the declaration in time.

The Commission added, however, that it is not possible to determine how many people were excluded, as there are no data to assess how many wanted to vote but were denied the opportunity. In addition, some EU nationals may have decided to vote for candidates in their country of origin or not to vote at all.

As regards British citizens abroad, more than 16,000 applied to vote ahead of the EU elections, but many could not return postal votes in time to be counted, the Commission added.

“It is unacceptable that people eligible to vote should be frustrated from doing so,” the report says.

Extra requirement, less time

The European parliament elections took place on May 23 and, since Brexit was delayed, the UK participated too. EU nationals living in the UK were entitled to register and vote, but they had to submit an additional form (called UC1) declaring that they did not intend to vote in their country of origin as double voting is against the law.

Only on April 10 the Cabinet Office Minister made the legislation setting the election date on May 23. The deadline to submit the form by post or email was May 7. This left the Electoral Registration Offices with little time to prepare, especially considering that there were also local elections at the beginning of May.

In total, the Electoral Commission reports, approximately 2.4 million UC1 forms were sent out to EU nationals, although the figure includes reminders.

Following an enquiry that considered 149 calls and emails, 618 formal complaints and correspondence or parliamentary questions by MPs, the Commission concluded that EU nationals faced three major problems. Some were not aware of the need to complete an additional declaration to vote, others were not able to submit the declaration by the deadline and others thought they had submitted the declaration in time, but were not included on the electoral register and therefore could not vote.

The Electoral Commission said that that difficulties were caused by delays in reforming the electoral law, as similar problems had already been flagged after the 2014 EU elections. This year, however, the problems were “exacerbated by the government’s late confirmation that the European parliamentary elections would go ahead,” the Commission said.

Postal vote for British abroad

A separate report also highlights complications for British living abroad. “Overseas electors contacted us during and after the election to express concern that they had been unable to return postal votes in time to be counted,” the Commission says.

Once again, timing and failure to change the electoral procedures were the issues. “We reported on the same concerns from overseas electors after the 2015 and 2017 UK parliamentary general elections and the 2016 EU referendum,” the Commission writes.

The report adds: “This is not a new issue and again UK governments have not addressed this problem by making changes in the law, so effectively denying numbers of UK citizens overseas who are entitled to vote a reasonably practical way to actually vote.”

“It is unacceptable that some EU citizens living in the UK and British citizens living abroad experienced difficulties that prevented them from voting at the European Parliamentary elections,” commented Bob Posner, Electoral Commission’s Chief Executive. “The May elections illustrate that delays in government action, which are needed to properly update our electoral laws, now pose significant risks to voter trust and confidence.”

Loss of trust

The inquiry also concluded that these difficulties have impacted on people’s trust in the elections. While a majority of the voters contacted for the research said that the elections were well-run and were satisfied with the process, confidence had fallen by more than 10% since the European elections of 2014.

More than a fifth (22%) said they were not confident the European parliamentary elections were well-run. The most common reason was that “some people did not have the opportunity to vote or had the opportunity taken away” and “some people had difficulties registering to vote”.

The report notes that since 2016, the Electoral Commission has urged the UK governments to take its recommendations forward and change the electoral procedure. “The UK Government indicated in February 2015 that it planned further discussions with the Commission and other stakeholders on the registration process for EU citizens, but no such discussions were held,” it adds.

After the EU elections, the3million, a group defending the rights of EU nationals in the UK, launched a crowdfunding campaign to challenge the government in court over the exclusion of EU nationals from the vote. The government is now expected to respond to their claims by October 24.

According to a research by the House of Commons Library, in December 2018 there were more than 1.9 million EU citizens on the electoral registers in England and Wales, or 4.5% of voters there. In Scotland, the total was 132,800 (3.2% of the electorate). The highest proportion of EU voters was in the London borough of Brent (18.4%), followed by Kensington and Chelsea (17.6%) and Newham (16.6%). Outside London, the local authority with the highest number of EU voters was Boston, in Lincolnshire (14.8%). The lowest proportion of EU voters was in Redcar and Cleveland (0.4%) in North Yorkshire.

Claudia Delpero © all rights reserved.

Photo by Pascal Bastien. Copyright © European Union 2018 – Source : EP.

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