“Brit overseas? Your vote matters” scream the adverts. But our votes will count for nothing if the ballot papers don’t arrive to us on time. Again.
During the General Election 2015, it was widely reported both on Expat forums and in the national press that many British voters overseas had received their postal ballots too late to return them.
I was one such voter.
My husband and I clicked on the adverts (I even wrote this post encouraging other Expats to do the same) we qualified to vote and in November 2014 we applied through the online portal to register for postal votes. Then nothing. We didn’t receive confirmation until April 2015 and our ballot papers didn’t arrive until 30th April, leaving no time to return them by the deadline, unless we were willing to buy them a plane ticket.
It wasn’t just me.
The official Electoral Commission report identified delivery of postal ballots to overseas electors as a problem (pages 40-44), in fact TWO of their thirteen recommendations for improvements were focused on the specific issues surrounding postal votes (see below). They pointed out that it this is an especially important issue because the number of postal votes (both at home and overseas) is increasing and will continue to increase, especially if the “Votes For Life” bill passes (at present only Brits who have been abroad less than 15 years are eligible to vote).
Back in May, I threw my ballot papers in the bin with a resigned shrug. My constituency was a Tory certainty. My vote probably wouldn’t have counted for much.
But for the forthcoming EU Referendum, I want to vote. I need to vote. I want to be able to look my children in the eye and say I stood up to be part of this huge, historic decision. As one of the 5 MILLION Brits who live overseas (over 113,000 of whom are registered as postal or proxy voters) I feel that my vote counts more than it ever has.
I understand completely why some Brits choose not to vote.
Yes, I agree that you should have a stake in a country in order to enjoy the privilege of voting on it’s future. Yes, I do mean a privilege, not a right. I’m not even that keen on this whole “Votes for Life” law (if you are in favour of it though, here’s the link to a good Expat Votes for Life pressure group). Yes, I DO have a stake in the future of the UK as I plan on returning someday. Moreover, since moving to the USA I have a fresh perspective on the benefits and disadvantages of staying in the EU. I know that leaving the EU won’t change the wider world thinking of me as an European. I know that it will have dramatic implications on UK USA relations, both political and businesses. It has been much easier to see how EU laws affect lives and livelihoods now that I’m no longer ruled by them (good and bad).
British citizens living and working overseas, for whatever reason, have more than an academic sense of the UK’s place in the world and what it means to leave or remain in the EU.
It doesn’t matter if we plan on voting yes or no or none of the above, the British electoral system should be efficient enough to ensure we can voice our opinions in time.
Will we get our ballot papers on time?
Here are the recomendations from the Electoral Commission official report. Have they been acted on in time?