Voting rights update
British in Europe has been engaging since December 2022 with civil servants in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), and also Baroness Scott, the minister responsible for implementation of the Elections Act 2022 on the overseas voters’ provisions in that Act. Following correspondence and meetings in December, March and June with civil servants, as well as a roundtable with Baroness Scott in June, we can set out the current position.
The timetable, as we have already noted, has slipped from the original aim to allow registration by this autumn, to registration by January 2024. This means that the secondary legislation on overseas voters, as well as on postal and proxy voting and online voter applications, will need to be laid and made from October – December 2023 and come into force by January 2024.
As we have previously said, the big innovation of the Elections Act is that overseas voters will be able to register to vote in either their last place of registration on the electoral roll, or, their last place of residence.
This will be online as currently but it will now be possible both to register to vote and apply for an absent vote – postal or proxy – simultaneously online. The Register to Vote pages on gov.uk will be updated to reflect this. It will also allow for documents to be uploaded. This service is due to be available from January 2024.
What will you need to prove in order to register?
You will need to provide proof of ID and proof of either your last place of registration on the electoral roll or of residence. These will need to be verified.
Verification of ID
This should be fairly straightforward. As now, the process will follow the UK resident process and start with an NI number. If this cannot be produced or verified, other documents such as a passport can be provided.
In the event that ID cannot be verified through documentation, there is a final option to provide an attestation from another suitably qualified elector, who could be UK resident or overseas. It is only possible for one such elector to make two attestations within a one-year period. Full guidance on attestations has been promised by the DLUHC.
Verification of registration or last address
This will be more tricky and it would be good to start checking now what documentation you may have to prove either where you were last registered or resident.
Note that registrations on the electoral roll only need to be kept by electoral registration officers by law for 15 years. Some do archive them either on site or at the main library. Otherwise, they are archived at the British Library and harder to access. Thus, if you could last vote in 2008 or 2009, the register showing your registration should still be available but earlier registrations may not be.
In this case, or if you were never registered, you will need to provide evidence of your last address. The original list of documentation to prove last address included in the government’s February 2022 policy paper was quite UK-centric and we referred to that documentation in our survey. We believe there have been some changes since we pointed this out e.g. expired UK drivers’ licences and non-UK drivers’ licences should be included in the list now, and it appears that civil servants took on board our views on electoral officers having the discretion to accept other documents as well as having access to a wide range of government databases where overseas voters engage with government to assist verification e.g. DWP.
Where it is not possible to verify your address through documentation, there will again be the final option of providing an attestation (see above).
People who left the UK as children will be able to rely on their parents’ details.
Electoral registration will now last until the third successive 1st November after which you registered. However, there will be transitional arrangements for the period following implementation of the Elections Act and overseas voters will need to pay attention to these. A light touch renewal declaration will be used for re-registration and should speed it up.
Electoral registration officers have for some years been able to send out international postage paid envelopes, recognised throughout the International Postal Union, to avoid issues such as the incorrect value of stamps being applied to ballot return envelopes and to speed their return. We have noted that there have been problems on many occasions with postal services in other countries, including Germany, failing to recognise the envelopes. We understand that efforts will be made to ensure that the return envelopes issued are recognised by postal services in the countries in which UK citizens abroad live.
One proxy can now vote on behalf of up to four overseas voters. As in the past, proxies do not have to be based in the constituency where you last voted but can be resident in another constituency and vote by postal vote themselves. For example, if you live in Bordeaux and can vote in Brighton but your proxy lives in Bolton, they can fill in your proxy vote and post it to Brighton. Given the problems in the past with postal voting, we are pushing for more flexibility on switching from a postal vote to a proxy vote if the postal vote does not arrive or too late to be returned in time. As now, overseas electors will also have the option of asking a political party in their constituency to cast a vote on their behalf if they don’t have friends or family who could act as a proxy voter.
15 July 2023
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