More expats register to vote
ALMOST 14,000 expat Britons applied to register to vote in the last four weeks so as to be able to take part in the EU referendum – but hundreds of thousands remain unregistered.
A campaign by the Electoral Commission and British Embassy plus news that the referendum could come as soon as June 23 have helped boost the numbers, with 6,160 applying online in the week of the ‘Overseas voter registration’ campaign (1-7 February). That compared to 1,852 in the previous week and some momentum was maintained last week when there were 4,386.
It is not known exactly how many expatriates are registered, though rough guesses can be made based on the fact that 106,000 were registered for the UK General Election last year, which was around a tripling compared to the previous one.
However numbers registering were low in the later part of 2015, and some of those who were registered at the time of the referendum may now have dropped off the register (this happens after a year if you either do not receive or do not complete a form confirming you are still an eligible overseas voter).
What is certain is that the numbers are few compared to the estimated 2 million British expats who are likely to be of an age to vote and to have been abroad for less than 15 years.
Brian Cave of campaign group Votes for Expat Brits said it was hard to know for sure why many do not register. He said: “I think some who are abroad for a short period for work and know they’re going back can’t be bothered and don’t think it matters to them if there is a Brexit or not and are not motivated enough.
“Those who are in Europe you would think would still bother a bit more, but they may not have cottoned on to the fact they have to register.
“I would like to see the embassy doing more – in Spain the ambassador has been talking to expats – though it’s something that the registration rose in the Overseas Voter week.”
He added: “I think people are also not sufficiently aware of the problems that could come from a Brexit. Some who have been away for some years are perhaps so focussed on their lives in France that they think it doesn’t matter to them – it doesn’t occur to them to think of the possible effects of such a major change.
“Of course it does especially affect retired people like myself, but many of us do not have a vote. We people who are the most affected have no say.”
With the referendum likely now to be sooner rather than later, anyone who has been away from the UK for less than 15 years, and who therefore retains the right to vote in the referendum and would like to take part, is advised to apply to be registered as soon as possible at www.gov.uk/register-to-vote
Bear in mind that there is a two-stage process – you apply to be registered and then you must send a separate application for a postal or a proxy vote. Returning officers have been asked to aim to send out ballot packs to people abroad about one month before the poll – which should leave extra time compared to last year’s General Election, when there were problems with many ballots arriving late.
However you may wish to consider the proxy option which is likely to be the most reliable. A proxy does not have to be a relative.