Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee
The Elections Bill inquiry
My submission relates to one specific item in the Elections Bill:
Part 2/10: Extension of franchise for parliamentary elections: British citizens overseas.
I have developed academic expertise on expatriate voting since 2012, initially relating to France and Italy but with a focus on the UK since 2015. Throughout my research I have engaged widely with Britons living abroad, including several field trips, as well as online through my web-site ‘http://britonsvotingabroad.co.uk’ and its related Facebook page. I have conducted surveys on overseas electors and Britons living abroad and published several peer-reviewed journal articles and blogs on this topic.
Evidence in support of the recommendation to introduce secure downloadable postal ballots for overseas electors
The data that follows is extracted from an on-line survey conducted between 15th December 2019 – May 2020 of the profile of Britons abroad, their political preferences and their experiences of voting (or not) in the UK as overseas electors. Given the ‘hard to reach’ nature of the total population of Britons abroad, the survey makes no claim to be a representative sample but it nevertheless produced some useful and original findings. It was launched from my web-site and Facebook page and further disseminated using the snowballing technique by a number of organisations campaigning for overseas voting rights and/or the defence of citizenship rights in the EU. There were 4366 respondents, 85.7% of whom lived in the EU and 14.3% outside the EU, mainly in Australia and the USA. Further details of the survey can be shared on request.
Of the 4366 respondents, there was strong support for ‘Votes For Life’.
2.3 Of those who had never registered as an overseas elector, 70.3% said it was ‘very likely’ they would register if the 15 -year rule was abolished while 12.9% said it was ‘quite likely’.
3.2 Of those who voted, 54.7% did so by postal ballot, 15.5% by proxy and 29.8% in a UK polling station.
3.3 Of those who did not vote, 68.8% said it was because they had lost their right to vote due to the 15-year rule.
3.4 Of the 145 respondents who said they had been unable to vote for administrative/postal reasons, 105 gave further details to explain why. Over half said the ballot papers arrived too late or not at all. Others described various problems with registration or with proxies.
3.5 In the 2016 EU Referendum, 54.1% of respondents said they voted. Of the 45.4% that did not, 74.8% said it was because of the 15-year rule and 8% said it was because of administrative/postal problems. Of the 132 respondents who provided further details, a similar picture emerged to that of 2015.
3.6 In the 2017 parliamentary election, 50.1% of respondents said they voted. 60.8% of these said they voted by postal ballot, 22.2% by proxy and 17% in a UK polling station.
3.7 Of the 48.9% that did not vote, 74.8% said it was because of the 15-year rule, while 8.1% said it was because of administrative/postal problems. 136 further responses revealed an even great proportion of problems with late or non-arrival of postal ballots, as well as problems relating to registration and proxies.
3.8 In the 2019 parliamentary election, 48.9% of respondents said they voted whereas 51.1% did not. Of those that voted, 45% did so by postal ballot, 51.9% by proxy and 3% in a UK polling station.
3.9 Of those who did not vote, 79.9% said it was because of the 15-year rule and 7.4% said it was because of administrative/postal problems. 144 follow-up responses once again presented a picture of administrative disenfranchisement similar to that of the previous elections.
Voting methods used by overseas electors in last 3 parliamentary elections:
In UK polling station
4.1 There has been a steep decline in the number of overseas electors coming to the UK to vote: this is possibly due to increased awareness of online registration.
4.2 There has been a rise in the number of proxy voters, possibly due to
4.3 The drop in the number of postal voters in 2019 could be explained by bad experiences of postal voting in 2017, with proxy voting seen as more secure. It should be noted however that many people do not have a suitable proxy and are therefore limited to the postal ballot. Many respondents also complained of problems with overseas proxy voting.
4.4 The overall stated aim of the Elections Bill is ‘to strengthen the integrity of UK elections and protect our democracy,’ while the removal of the 15-year limit on the overseas franchise is intended ‘to increase participation in our democracy’: in order to achieve these objectives, the new legislation should go beyond improving the overseas registration process to ensuring that the act of voting for overseas electors is also ‘secure, modern and fair’. The introduction of secure downloadable postal ballots for overseas electors would go a long way towards achieving this goal.