Britons in France are being urged to support amendments to a bill giving lifetime voting rights to UK citizens abroad.
LibDems in France welcome the fact that the Overseas Electors Bill, likely to become law before this summer, will finally provide ‘votes for life’ – as opposed to votes being lost 15 years after moving – but say it lacks two elements to ensure the voices of Britons abroad are heard.
These are support for overseas constituencies such as France has, as opposed to remaining attached to your last UK one, and new ways to ensure overseas ballots can be sent back to the UK in time.
Demand for urgent amendments to bill
Postal ballots arriving in homes outside the UK too late to be sent back in time has been a perennial issue.
Jenny Shorten, chairwoman of the French local party for UK centrists the Liberal Democrats, said there is a window of a few weeks, while the bill is in the Lords, for peers to adopt amendments on these issues, which LibDems in France have helped to organise.
They will, however, then have to be accepted by MPs if they are to succeed.
The approach being taken is to ask the government to lay reports before Parliament with proposals on dedicated overseas constituencies and looking at new, better ways of voting from overseas, all within six months of the bill being passed.
Call to action to ensure your UK vote
Ms Shorten, a retired events organiser, asked readers to send emails in support of these amendments to LibDem peer Lord Wallace, who has been leading the team proposing them, at firstname.lastname@example.org
She also asked that they email the ministers in charge of the bill: Lord True, via email@example.com and, in the Commons, Kemi Badenoch firstname.lastname@example.org to tell the government about any difficulties they have faced with postal voting or in getting action – or a reply – from their current UK MP, if they have one.
She said discussions with the Electoral Commission had shown it is keen to look for voting solutions but did not want to say a certain method, such as downloadable ballots, was the answer at this stage.
“We understand the need to get these details right and that’s why we’re proposing a consultation and report about these options,” added Ms Shorten.
Proxy votes prove difficult
She said a proxy vote has been suggested as a solution in the past, but not everyone has a suitable contact in the UK.
“And that’s not going to get easier now that they will have people voting who have been out of the country for 20 or 30 years.”
Overseas constituencies might not happen for the next election, Ms Shorten admits, though the LibDems are working to build momentum towards their eventual adoption in the UK.
“The argument for it is that the vast majority of MPs ignore their overseas voters, and that needs to change,” she said.