‘Remainer’ Brits in EU can find their proxy voter with new Facebook group
Britons in the EU struggling to find a proxy voter in the constituency where they were last registered are being encouraged to use a new Facebook group. As long as they are against Brexit.
Published: 21 November 2019 14:45 CET
British voters in the EU, at least those not disenfranchised by the 15-year rule, have been encouraged to register for a proxy vote due to the unreliability of postal votes in the UK.
Both in the 2016 referendum and the 2017 there were scores of reported cases of postal votes getting lost.
Now many local authorities are recommending to overseas voters that they seek a proxy vote. A proxy vote is when the voter nominates someone to attend the polling station and vote on their behalf, but it must be the polling station relevant to the last UK address they were registered to vote at.
In response to this concern a group of Remain activists have set up a proxy vote matching service on Facebook which works a bit like a dating site.
People requiring someone to be their proxy use the form on the groups page to register where the vote needs to be cast.
At the same time thousands of like minded Remain voters are registering to be proxies. These voters have to provide a reference so they can be vetted. The team behind the group use Geo mapping of postcodes to find the nearest match. Once the person is vetted an introduction is made and the pair “friend” each other to see if they can agree to work together. Should they fail then another match is sought.
The group which is less than three weeks old already has close to 3,000 people participating and will have reached its 300th match soon.
Nigel Grey, the groups founder said, “During the European Elections, two friends asked me to be their proxy, I was amazed at how easy the process was. When I heard of the anger amongst the expat community, that they were once again going to be disenfranchised the solution seemed obvious. I however never imagined it would take off as quickly as it has”.
To join the group, people are asked to visit the page https://www.facebook.com/RemainProxyVoters and click the sign up button. After that they just need to sit back and wait for a match to be emailed to them. They also join the group and can sit and watch the matches come through.
Grey said: “One Expat described watching the posts as like watching the National Lottery hoping that this time it was their number that were going to come up.”
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.
Published: 1 February 2023 17:31 CET
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.
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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