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Brits Abroad Fear Postal Delays Will Stop Them Voting In The General Election

5 min read

There are warnings that a "chaotic and broken" postal system will stop voters overseas from taking part in the General Election. One Brit in Australia told PoliticsHome the “chances are” they will not get to have a say this time around due to delays. 

Thanks to a change in the law earlier this year, UK citizens who have been out of the country for more than 15 years will be able to vote on 4 July in the last constituency they lived in the UK. The change has expanded the franchise to hundreds of thousands more people, who are able to cast a ballot this time by post or by proxy. 

However, overseas voters and campaigners have raised concerns about issues with the postal systems in place, and whether people will definitely be able to cast their ballot in time.

Simon Mack, and his wife Chris, lived in Italy for 26 years and have been in Australia for around the last four years, and said that when “they eventually got around to allowing overseas voters” they were “one of the first to apply”. 

Mack told PoliticsHome that they registered “without any great difficulty”, but as of Wednesday evening Australia-time, their ballot papers had not yet arrived.

“If they arrive in the next week, we could courier them back, but the chances are we won’t be getting our vote this time around.” 

“We opted for the postal vote because that seemed to be the most obvious one," he said, adding that they opted for the postal option, believing that the proxy would have to attend the polling station in person, which they did not think would be possible. However, they have since learned that a proxy would have been able to submit a postal vote on their behalf too. 

“It’s being sent here, I would be surprised if it turns up in the next week,” he said. 

Mack, who now lives in Perth, Western Australia, said that he and his wife “still identify as British, even though we live overseas” and there remain “a lot of issues that are of real concern to us,” such as health and social care. He questioned why there could not be a system such as overseas constituencies, which he believes “make a lot of sense”. 

Jane Golding, chair of British in Europe, said that there is “more support” available in other countries, compared to the UK’s offer of postal or proxy voting. 

"Registering to vote is only the first step,” she said. 

“Finding a way to exercise that vote is time-consuming and confusing for many UK citizens living overseas. The only options are postal or proxy votes, which are far from perfect solutions. Other countries offer more support to their diasporas. So why can’t the UK?”

Linda Theaker who lives in Spain said that she had been trying to secure a proxy vote, but believed her "chances of being able to cast my vote are swiftly fading".

“For the life of me, I cannot understand why this cannot be done, securely and effectively, online,” she said.

Peter Stanyon, the chief executive of the Association of Electoral Administrators told PoliticsHome that overseas postal votes being returned is “in the hands of the postal services” across the globe in order to meet the “hard deadline” of the election on 4 July. 

“The same deadlines apply for overseas electors as they do for any UK based nationals,” he said.

“If applications come from overseas and they want postal votes there will be problems getting them there and back, because you’re in the hands of the postal services not just in the UK, but obviously in the nation in which they’re living."

“The elector is given the choice — as all electors are — how they want to vote," Stanyon said, but applications will be worked through alongside domestic ones.

“The brutal reality is that the postal vote is produced, is sent, then through the international post service to whichever nation they’re residing in. They’ve got to open it, complete it, and send it back the other way around, and they’ve got the same hard deadline of that arriving back in the returning officer’s hands by 10pm on 4 July. 

“A postal vote has got less chance of getting through than you would do in the UK."

A post box in Cornwall (Alamy)

Director of pressure group Unlock Democracy and former Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake, told PoliticsHome that “extending the right to vote to overseas voters isn't the same as their postal votes actually being counted".

He called postal systems in the UK and abroad “at the best of times, unreliable and at the worst of times, chaotic and broken".

"And for many, a proxy vote isn't an option, with no one in the UK who can vote on their behalf."

“Time to bring voting into the 21st Century, either by allowing secure electronic voting or voting at Embassies or High Commissions,” Brake said.

According to data provided on the Government website, thousands of overseas voters have been applying to register to vote every day over the last week, ahead of the deadline to register which was at 11:59pm on Tuesday. This was ahead of the deadline to register for a postal vote, which is at 5pm on Wednesday (19 June). 

Figures on the online dashboard show that there were more than 632,000 registration applications on Tuesday, of which more than 17,000 were from British citizens abroad. 

Before the final day, applications for voter registrations had previously spiked on Thursday last week (13 June), with more than 330,000 people registering whether online of via paper forms. 

That figure is significantly higher than any other day last week. The day with the second highest number of applications was Wednesday (12 June), when 120,811 people submitted an application. 

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