Given the difficulties below in identifying individual voters resident in the UK, the challenge is even greater for the Electoral Commission which is charged with canvassing and encouraging up to some 3 million British citizens (out of the estimated 5 – 6 million living abroad) to register as overseas voters if not already excluded by the 15-year-rule. If this resulted in 100,000 – 200,000 registered overseas voters in 2014, this would represent a significant improvement and carry more weight politically, given the historical level of only a maximum of some 30,000 since British expatriates were first granted the right to vote in the mid 1980s.
The author of this particular blog article for example has a house in the UK, pays council tax and should, therefore, be listed on the local council tax database, has a National Insurance number and receives communications at his overseas address from his local (British) council, the Department for Work & Pensions & HMRC but is excluded from voting by the 15-year-rule! In theory, however, data-matching by his local (British) electoral officials could identify him from the above sources of information, although this is not the constituency in which he last voted, but it hasn’t happened in the past and, with local council resources limited, the extra work and costs associated with tracking down potential overseas voters make this unlikely now.
The more practical and proactive registration solution, therefore, for the British expatriate not already disqualified by the 15-year-rule is provided by the Electoral Commission via the website: www.aboutmyvote.co.uk
For domestic voters, there is a new call to delay the introduction of Individual Electoral Registration (IER) in the UK because of fresh fears about the accuracy of data-matching, which is proposed to be used to identify those who might not automatically register to vote (eg students, poorer or ethnic minority voters) before the next general election.
Poor “dry run” results which matched the details of less than half the number of available voters in some areas, therefore, will require local electoral officials to launch more effective canvassing operations in certain individual wards to find these missing voters with so-called ‘Local data-matching’, using council tax, housing benefit and library databases for example.
Transition to IER will begin in England and Wales in June 2014 and in Scotland in September, following the referendum on independence. Local electoral officials must publish their revised registers by 17 February next year – or 10 March in Scotland and Wales.
Given the current difficulties in implementing IER, shouldn’t you as a British expatriate citizen proactively make sure that you are registered to vote before the above deadlines e.g. via the Electoral Commission website: www.aboutmyvote.co.uk ?
Even if they think they are not, (or may not be), directly affected by the 15 Year Rule, British expatriates should understand that current Government policies and proposals — which seem to have the tacit support of the Opposition — are making it increasingly likely that all expatriates will eventually be classified as ‘aliens’ or ‘foreigners’. This would mean not only that their pensions and other benefits may be reduced or annulled but also that, if they return to the UK for any reason, (including for holidays or NHS treatment), they will not be able to claim their rights as British nationals. The Deputy PM (Nick Clegg) has already stated publicly that expatriates should surrender their British nationality and adopt that of the country in which they reside. (They will still, however, be required to pay tax on any UK derived income).
This possibility makes it increasingly important for all expatriates to join at least one of the various campaigns and to sign the relevant petitions and the IER site as soon as possible. Even if that doesn’t help an individual personally, it will benefit many others. Collective solidarity is therefore crucial.