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BREXIT

OPINION: Why a proxy vote is the best option for those expats with right to vote in UK election

Sue Wilson of Bremain in Spain urges those that can to register to vote in the UK elections and explains why a proxy vote is the best option.

OPINION: Why a proxy vote is the best option for those expats with right to vote in UK election
People marching against Brexit on October 19th. AFP PHOTO / UK BROADCAST POOL

Now that the general election campaign (yes, another one!) has officially commenced in Britain, it’s time to ensure you can cast your vote.  

If you’re already registered to vote, you can do so in person, post or proxy. If you’re not registered, you must apply to become an overseas voter. Those already registered need to verify that their registration is still current, as it must be renewed annually.

If you haven’t renewed your registration since the 2015 election, you must do so by midnight November 26th. However, we recommend not leaving this process until the last minute, as it will leave insufficient time to apply for a postal or proxy vote.

Based on previous experience, I would strongly recommend applying for a proxy vote, if you cannot vote in person. During the referendum, the 2015 general election and the recent European elections, many people who relied on postal votes were badly let down.

Either postal forms weren’t issued in time to be completed and returned before the deadline, or not issued at all. After the European elections, some local authorities openly admitted that they had failed to comply with postal vote requests.

Around 60 percent of British citizens overseas are already disenfranchised because of the 15-year voting rule. This is a sore point for people who are being forced to live with decisions that affect their lives, but over which they have no say.

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Photo: AFP

For those who still have their democratic voting rights, it’s infuriating to have them removed by a UK council that has failed to issue postal ballots to overseas voters.

Those with no experience of proxy voting often assume that you need to find a friend or family member living in your local constituency to act on your behalf. While that is certainly one option, there are others. My personal method – and a popular one – is to have my preferred candidate do the work for me.

Once your name is on the electoral register in your former constituency (the address where you last resided in the UK), you can apply for a proxy vote. This is an easy process which can be started online. However, your ‘hard copy’ form must be received by post by your local Electoral Registration Office by December 4th (and beware the UK pre-Christmas post slow-down and planned postal strike).

When you’ve decided on your preferred political candidate, and have been granted a proxy vote, you can approach the local constituency office of your chosen candidate. The office will assign a proxy for you and, clearly, they have a vested interest in ensuring that the process works.

For the disenfranchised, there are still ways to be heard in this election. You can encourage friends and family members, in Spain and the UK, to register and vote. You may have young family members who’ve never voted and don’t know how. For example, students may not be aware that they can register to vote in their home town and their university town. They can only vote once but registering in two different places gives them more flexibility when the time comes.

It remains to be seen whether “Votes for Life” – the former Overseas Electors Bill – proceeds into any party manifestos, but we live in hope. Bremain in Spain will continue to campaign to have voting rights restored to all overseas voters. In the meantime, if you can vote, please do so. You’re not just voting for yourself but for the hundreds of thousands of people who cannot vote in this election.

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain

More information

For more on how to register, how to apply for a postal/proxy vote, including forms to download, please check out the Bremain in Spain website, where you’ll find a wealth of election information, including advice on tactical voting.

READ ALSO: The 'Brexit election': How Britons in Europe can register for a proxy or postal vote 

 

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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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