British in Europe submission on overseas voting to the House of Lords
As we reported on 25 October, there was great news on overseas voting rights as the draft Overseas Electors Regulations were laid before both houses of Parliament on 23 October. The draft SI (statutory instrument) and a similar SI for Northern Ireland are currently being considered by committees in the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee
One of the key committees is the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which examines the policy merits of SIs that are subject to parliamentary procedure. The committee welcomes submissions from the public or interest groups like British in Europe (BiE) that help the committee understand how the instrument will work in practice.
After we had reviewed the draft SI (which involved looking at how it amended both previous primary and secondary legislation - not straightforward), we decided to raise some outstanding points with the Committee.
Our submission was the only written evidence on the draft SI. We were delighted that the Committee considered it and referred to it in its report on the draft SI. The Committee also asked the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), which is responsible for the draft SI, to respond to it and so there is a full response on the record.
Our submission and the DLUHC response have now been published on the Committee’s website. Below are the key points:
Verification of last address: documents accepted
The good news is that the DLUHC has taken on board the results of our survey on overseas voting and the points we have made to them during the last year about the type of documentation that you will be able to provide to prove your last residence in the UK.
The draft SI now allows Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) to consider, in addition to documents set out in a non-exhaustive list in the legislation, other documents as long as they include the applicant’s name and previous address in the UK.
You will also be able upload these documents electronically and, in some cases, when you make your initial online application.
Switching from postal to proxy votes when postal ballots don’t arrive
Our key ask was on the process of switching from a postal to proxy vote, given that postal services cannot be relied on in the tight timetable of a general election.
We had some useful responses. A clear improvement is that the Postal and Proxy Voting Regulations bring absent vote applications online. The DLUHC also confirmed that if an overseas elector is worried that their postal ballot will not arrive in time, they can cancel their postal vote and, if they do this at least 11 working days before the election, they can set up a proxy instead.
Awareness raising and information campaign
The Electoral Commission will be responsible for raising awareness and providing information to overseas electors about their rights and how to vote. We asked for a whole of Government exercise and the DLUHC has confirmed that the UK Government will amplify the Electoral Commission’s campaign through Government communication channels where value can be added. The DLUHC is also exploring what data on the British diaspora government departments hold, and how this could best be used to reach UK citizens abroad.
Funding to support implementation of the overseas voting provisions by the next GE
The DLUHC has confirmed that funding will be put in place, as well as given details on how that funding will be provided.
What can you do whilst we wait for the legislation to be adopted?
For the last year some of our work on voting rights has been funded by a grant from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust but that funding expired at the end of October 2023. Unfortunately, our application for more funding last month was unsuccessful, due to the huge demand for funding in the UK and despite appreciation for our work. We will now be relying on donations to get our voting rights over the line and to spread the word amongst the global UK diaspora. If you would like to support this work you can donate here.
Keep an eye out for the blog posts on different aspects of overseas voting that we will be posting before Christmas.
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