For the more insular British politicians who think that they have little to learn from France where overseas voting rights are concerned, some 1 million (40%) out of 2.5 million French overseas citizens have registered to vote , compared with 30,000 (0.6%) of their 5 million British counterparts.
The French certainly appear more politically passionate than the British. Perhaps then the US (where cost savings and other benefits from on-line registration are already being demonstrated) is a better example instead, since “where the US leads today the UK tends to follow”?
Here’s how the Americans are already getting organised in Paris, via the WeVote Project of The Union of Overseas Voters, a non-partisan, non-profit association empowering US voters abroad to register ahead of the US Presidential elections.
The Overseas Vote Foundation paper “Civilian Americans Overseas & Voter Turnout” by Dr. Claire M. Smith, shows a 240,000 – 280,000 (6-7%) voter turnout from an estimated 4 million US civilian citizens living abroad. The Department of State recommends that all US voters residing abroad request absentee ballots from their local election officials ( refer US Overseas Voter Registration Procedures_1) to encourage registration.
Dr. Smith still considers this 6-7% as a very low turnout rate and questions whether this is due to lack of interest among the overseas population or because of widespread disenfranchisement. She notes that not all Americans who have made a conscious decision to move abroad may want to vote and there is also no indication in the data available of how many of these 4 million individuals are eligible to vote anyway. However, there is evidence that a large portion of the US overseas population is generally not successful in its attempt to participate. Major difficulties in (or implicit barriers to) voting, arise from ensuring that their ballot papers are returned on time, problems with the registration process and never receiving the ballot papers even after registering.
Concerning explicit disenfranchisement by law (as is the case with the UK’s 15-year-rule), Americans born abroad and who are otherwise through their passports considered US citizens in every respect, including being obliged to pay federal taxes, are currently disenfranchised in 32 states.
The major difference with the UK is that after 15 years abroad, explicit disenfranchisement applies to all British overseas civilians of voting age (excluding those in government service), whether they continue to pay taxes back in the UK or not. Otherwise, there are the same implicit barriers from difficulties in returning the voting papers on time and from a burdensome registration process for those with less than 15 consecutive years spent resident overseas.
However, whereas the US Election Assistance Commission (EAC) statistics show that some 375,000 – 500,000 US ballots were transmitted to registered, US overseas citizens, the House of Commons Library statistics ( see snpc-05923_overseas_voters) reveal a maximum of only some 30,000 overseas British electors on the UK Electoral Register since voting rights were first granted in 1985.
This order of magnitude difference with the American example cannot all be blamed on general apathy in the British overseas population, given the explicit and implicit barriers to registering and voting in the current system and a general lack of political engagement with, and knowledge of, the overseas voter base.
Demonstrating the rather absurd consequences of a blanket 15 year qualifying period, even this committed number of 30,000 registered overseas voters continues to be eroded as, after 15 years, polite letters are received thanking them for their past interest but removing them from the Electoral Register.
If you think that you can still vote, make sure that you are registered to vote via the Electoral Commission’s website www.aboutmyvote.co.uk