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Britons Voting Abroad

English Language Press articles on Overseas Electors Bill 2017-19

Links will be posted here to articles in the UK press and other media outlets relating to the Overseas Electors Bill 2017-19, and to the issue of voting rights for British overseas electors as appropriate. If you know of any articles which are not posted here please let us know by sending an email to

22nd March 2019, David Pegg in The Guardian, 'Tories cling on to tax exiles' right to vote for life despite bill delay'

22nd March 2019, Billy Kember in The Times, 'Bid to ease rules over tax exiles' donations'

16th October 2018 BBC News:‘Welsh MP's expat 'votes for life' plan moves closer

27 June 2018 Guardian (Amelia Hill): ‘Labour 'betraying' British citizens abroad who cannot vote

23rd Feb. 2018 Mail Online:‘MPs back plans to end 15-year time limit on expats voting in British elections

For journalists: Paper summarising the likely impact of the Overseas Electors Bill if it passes into law: 

What is the likely impact of the Overseas Electors Bill if it passes into law?

Based on the Government’s own estimates, 4.9m British nationals overseas would be eligible to register: 1.4 are already eligible and 3.5 would become eligible under the new legislation. This represents roughly 10% of the total electorate registered in 2017 (46.8m).

If they all registered and voted in UK elections, the impact could be significant, and this raises a number of issues:

  • How would MPs deal with the concerns of expatriate constituents who may have lived outside the constituency for many decades and whose problems may lie beyond the expertise of most MPs? 
    This is already a problem, but one that has been accentuated by the anxieties triggered by Brexit for Britons living in the EU, who have been unable to get advice from their MP. In an on-line survey conducted in 2017, 328 respondents (out of a total of 1029 participants) said they had tried to contact their MP but most had either no reply or an unsatisfactory one such as “I was told we had lost the referendum and I should get over it”, or “You no longer live in my constituency so I cannot represent you”.
    To address this problem, the Liberal Democrats are supporting the idea of creating ‘overseas constituencies’ with dedicated expatriate representation. But in order for this option to be considered, the Government needs to collect much more data on where registered overseas electors live, since overseas constituencies would have to be based at least loosely on their geographical location.
    Countries like France and Italy were able to draw up overseas constituency boundaries on the basis of residence data collected by their consular networks over a long period of time. 

 

                                                                                              Italian overseas constituencies

But UK consular networks have never closely monitored the expatriate population or been involved with the overseas election process which is entirely ‘assimilated’ into the overall domestic system.  This means that although the necessary information can be found within each electoral register, which includes both the UK address of last registration and the overseas address of every registered overseas elector, it is ‘hidden’ and is not collated to produce a national picture of country of residence of the overseas electorate.
The Overseas Electors Bill offers an opportunity to modify the secondary legislation to require Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) to produce data reports showing the number of registered electors by country of residence in their annual returns to the ONS in December of each year. The ONS could then be required to publish this information annually when it publishes the numbers of registered overseas electors by UK region in February / March of the following year.

  • What would be the postage cost of sending ballot papers to large numbers of overseas electors, especially if the recent practice of using the International Business Response for the return envelopes is maintained (and who would pay for it)? 
    Without knowing the geographical location of the potential 4.9m overseas electors, the Government cannot do more than guess at the answer to this question. This is another reason for Government to consider modifying secondary legislation to enable collection and publication of this information as outlined above.
  • What would be the implications of large numbers of non-resident constituents on campaigning in elections? How would candidates communicate their campaign literature to overseas electors at election times? Email would be the obvious answer, but discussions would be necessary to clarify issues of data protection.
  • What would be the implications of the increased workload in verifying overseas applications for EROs who already consider themselves to be under-resourced?
    Reports by the Association of Electoral Administrators have repeatedly underlined the ways in which the electoral system is already ‘pushed to the absolute limit’ by pressures on funding; the Government has stated that emergency funding could be made available if necessary to address this problem.
  • What would be the impact on constituency boundaries, currently based on resident population? Boundary Commissions have not so far given any consideration to non-resident citizens: this would have to change if there were large numbers of overseas registrations. Most importantly, data collection requirements should be modified under secondary legislation to allow for the publication of the number of registered overseas electors by constituency, as was the case in the 1990s when the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys (OPCS) published its annual volume of ‘Electoral Statistics’. This would enable researchers to investigate the electoral impact of ‘Votes For Life’: this is currently not possible because the ONS only publishes data broken down by region.
  • What would be the impact on party funding?
    All UK citizens on the electoral register are allowed to make unlimited donations to political parties. The extension of the franchise to millions more overseas electors means a significant increase in the potential number of donors. Opposition parties say this will give a greater advantage to the Conservative Party, because they have many supporters in tax havens who will become eligible to vote as a result of this Bill.
  • What is the likely uptake of the right to register? 
    Although there are potentially large numbers of people potentially affected by the Bill, we are in reality unlikely to see that many new registrations:  historically, registration levels of overseas electors are low, though they have been increasing since the introduction of on-line registration in 2015 and the EU Referendum in 2016, as shown in the table below. 
  • The Government anticipates that numbers could rise to anything between about 200,00 – 870,000 under the new legislation. But these are very much ‘guesstimates’ since it has no established channels of communication with its expatriate citizens.
    Britons in the EU are more likely to register because they feel more directly concerned by the implications of Brexit. Those living in non-European countries are less likely to register because postal voting from distant countries is almost impossible, and many people are not willing or able to organise a proxy vote.
  • The difficulties of actually voting as an overseas elector are now well documented in many official reports, and if the Overseas Electors Bill passes into law these problems will have to be seriously tackled if the Government really wants to bring ‘electoral justice’ to all Britons living abroad.  
    Sue Collard, 17th March 2019.