According to this article below (The X factor: the economics of voting) in The Economist of November 10th 2012, economists wonder why individuals turn out to vote at all in countries where it is not compulsory. ( In Australia where it is compulsory, Australian nationals and e.g. resident dual-nationality British/Australian citizens face the prospect of being fined for not voting).
According to the economic argument, the benefits of voting must be weighed against the chances of influencing the result, when there is only a slight possibility that a single vote could decide an election anyway.
The “costs” of voting which offset the “benefits” include e.g. the time and effort required to register to vote, to get to a polling station & then select between candidates. Here the individual registration process for British citizens living overseas remains particularly burdensome and indeed questionable in an Internet age when we do so many things securely on-line. Taken together with the short election cycle time & the uncertainties of the postal service, which point to a proxy vote as almost the only option, it is not so surprising that for many British expatriates the “costs” of registering and voting far outweigh the “benefits”.
Yet if everyone thought like that it would still be worthwhile for a single committed citizen to vote even if everyone else didn’t. However, there are of course a lot of other such committed citizens who would also turn out for the same reason or as a civic duty and all acting in a sense to “preserve democracy”. It is the response to those more “nihilist” citizens who espouse the view that all politicians and/or parties are the same and not worth voting for anyway. It is also why British citizens living abroad should be “bothered” about voting in UK elections, despite the barriers to doing so.
The Electoral Commission has at least provided a more convenient guide to registering to vote on www.aboutmyvote.co.uk and we encourage you to use this.
The Economist article concludes that in mature democracies perhaps it’s simpler than all that, and that the costs of voting are so small that it’s easier to just go and vote, rather than thinking about whether it’s worth it or not. The problem with this is that for a lot of British citizens the costs of, or barriers to, actually registering and voting from overseas, are perceived to have been set purposely so high as to actively discourage them from doing so. There is then further discouragement from electoral law currently removing that right altogether after 15 years abroad.
Hence it is not so surprising that of the estimated base of some 5 – 6 million British citizens living abroad only some 30,000 are registered to vote, many having been excluded by the 15-year-rule. Others still able to register to vote seem either not interested, disengaged from the UK or consider it not worth the bureaucratic bother, having concluded that their vote is not that valued by the political establishment in general anyway, let alone having much influence on the final election outcome.
However, if you agree with the democratic principle that a British citizen should be able to vote as a national right , we would appreciate your support for our campaign to remove this 15-year-limit on our voting rights by adding your vote here.
It is instructive that neighbouring Ireland with its current economic difficulties is now recognizing the potential of its large diaspora and “there is strong backing for giving Irish citizens who live abroad the right to vote in presidential elections with 68 per cent saying Yes to 17 per cent saying no, the remainder having no opinion”.