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Overseas voters urged to have their say in the UK general election

With the UK general election taking place on June 8th, it’s important to remember to register to vote if you can and want to have your say.

Overseas voters urged to have their say in the UK general election
Britain goes to the polls on June 8th. Photo: AFP

The UK Electoral Commission is urging all expats to check whether they are still are registered to vote and those who have not already done so to do so as soon as possible.

The registration deadline is May 22nd, but if you are intending to use a postal vote then the sooner the better to ensure that there is adequate time to receive and return postal ballot packs before polling day. 

Estimates show that there could be as many as 5.5 million UK citizens living abroad but just 263,903 overseas voters appeared on the UK electoral registers as of December 1st, 2016.

That number represented a huge leap (144.2 percent) on a year earlier as overseas voters registered to have their say in the EU referendum.

“In 2016 more UK citizens living abroad were registered to vote than ever before, but many others may be eligible to vote in the June general election,” Emma Hartley, Head of Campaigns at the Electoral Commission told The Local.

“Anyone living overseas who is eligible to vote in the UK should register now, and once registered should apply to vote by proxy so they can vote from outside the UK.”

Of course, not all Britons are eligible to vote due to the so-called '15-year rule' that prevents expats who have lived abroad for more than 15 years from voting in UK elections.

READ ALSO: Long term Brits in Spain set to miss out on vote in another election

But UK citizens who have been registered to vote in a UK constituency in the last 15 years may be eligible to register.

Even if you were too young to register when you left the UK, you can still register as an overseas voter, as long as a parent or guardian were registered to vote and you left the UK no more than 15 years ago.

An overseas registration is valid for 12 months, so if you took part in the Brexit referendum last June then you should still be registered and should check with your former council in the UK that your chosen voting method is still in place.

Your local Electoral Registration office should have sent you a reminder once your registration expired.

Overseas voters can choose to vote either by post or by proxy – where a trusted person is nominated to vote on behalf of another.

For the full guide on how to register, click here.

The deadline to register to vote is midnight on Monday May 22nd but don’t leave it until the last minute!

BRITS IN EUROPE

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. 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, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.

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