Many Britons in France and elsewhere abroad could struggle to claim their UK voting rights when the right to register is opened up next year, a survey has found.
The problem is among issues highlighted in the poll by campaigners British in Europe (BiE), who have had funding from a UK charity to work on the voting issue this year.
It comes as the UK gets ready to re-open voter registration for parliamentary elections for adult Britons abroad who lost their right to vote under previous rules which banned people from voting if they had lived outside the country for more than 15 years.
This has been ended by the Elections Act 2022, but secondary legislation to put in place procedures for re-registration is still being prepared. The government aims to allow re-registration from January 2024, in time for the next general election.
Under the new rules, British adults will be able to register if they can show they were previously registered on an electoral register or if they can prove they previously lived in a UK constituency at some point. The UK has so far opted not to simply allow all holders of a British passport to apply.
As voter registers (which include people who kept their registration updated from abroad while eligible) are typically only kept by councils for 15 years, there will no longer be easily-accessible records of some long-term expatriates’ registration.
In this case, and for those who never registered, other proofs will be accepted, it is planned.
The UK has previously suggested (see here, Annex A), a list of documents including household utility bills, bank statements etc, however, 19% of the 7,100 survey respondents stated they could not produce one of the items on the list.
A further breakdown showed variations by age and when people left. For example, as many as 60% of people aged 35-44 who left in 1991-2000 did not have any of the documents, reflecting the fact that those who left as teenagers or young adults are especially likely to struggle with this.
BiE is therefore urging the government to expand its list to be as wide as possible.
Another option being proposed by the government is to find an ‘attester’ who is a UK voter who is not a close relative and can vouch for a person’s previous residency, however 30% of respondents said they would find this difficult or impossible.
Other findings from the survey included:
Almost 60% are not currently able to vote having been out of the UK for at least 15 years
84% were ‘very likely’ to vote at the next election if they can do so and another 10% ‘quite likely’
Half have previously voted by post but of these only 64% found this a smooth experience. Despite this 75% are thinking of using this method next time.
Fewer than 30% have used the proxy vote option
90% support an e-voting option if security and privacy are assured
The full survey can be found at this link.