Why most UK expats will shun general election

The deadline for registering to vote in the UK general elections is fast approaching, but not all UK expats will be casting their vote. We talked to Brits around Europe about why they will be voting – or not.

Why most UK expats will shun general election
British Prime Minister David Cameron (L) and leader of the opposition Labour Party Ed Miliband (R) and British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (C). Photo: Dan Kitwood/POOL/AFP

On May 7th, millions of people will head to the polls in the UK General Election.

But for various reasons, a large proportion of the 5.5 million UK expats living abroad will not be casting their vote this year, The Local learns.

In some cases, expats said they felt the vote did not concern them and their lives as they were no longer living in the UK.

Simon Kilby, a British citizen who has been living in Vienna for the past six years told The Local: “I will not be voting, I see no point as I am living in another country.”

However he added that he does vote in European and local elections in Austria as they affect him directly (expats are allowed to vote in local elections in their adopted country).

Germany-based expat Adrian Robinson said: “I am no longer resident in the UK, and do not pay tax there. For me the government (regardless of politics) are no longer interested in me as a citizen.”

Like Kilby, Robinson said that he nevertheless took an active interest in the local politics in his adopted country because it has an impact on him.

Andrew McDonald was simply disillusioned by UK politics altogether.

"I am a British citizen and live in Italy but won’t be voting either here or there. No party has policies for me. They are all liars who just fill their own pockets! And cover up everything!"

For David Thompson in France, his decision not to vote was less complicated. “No, too much hassle. Besides I've not got any faith in anyone to vote for!"

But not all expats were singing the same tune, with some saying the UK elections were relevant to British citizens living abroad.

“As a British citizen living in the EU this election affects me as a large part of the electoral debate at the moment is focused on Britain's position within the EU, with potential referendums," Dan Purchase, an Austria-based Briton told The Local.

"I consider Austria my home and I have no plans to leave but I feel it would be dangerous to sever my ties to the UK," he added. "If the UK voted to leave the EU, they would obviously want to be part of the EEA which would allow a continuation of the free movement of people we currently see. But there is no guarantee that the EU would agree to this – especially in the animosity of a 'break-up'."

British expat Michele Fowler told The Local Spain that she is registered and will vote by proxy, a system which she describes as “more reliable than a postal vote, which doesn’t really give sufficient time if there is a delay on delivery."

Of course, not all Britons are eligible to vote due to the so-called ’15-year rule’ that prevents expats who have lived abroad for more than 15 years from voting in UK elections.

"After serving for 17 years in British government service abroad, we lose our right to vote after 15 years," Roger Owen told The Local. "Now there's gratitude."

Speaking to The Local previously, voting rights campaigner Harry Schindler, who has been living in Italy for nearly 30 years, said: “There’s no question that we’ve loosened our ties to the country.

“We have family and friends in the UK, we go backwards and forwards. I can get to London quicker by plane than an MP can from [the English city] Carlisle.”

Other Britons contacted by The Local were not even aware that they could vote in the UK elections with several requesting information.

"I am a British citizen, cannot vote here and was not aware I could still vote in the UK," said Italy-based expat Simon Carey.

Currently, as few as 20,000 people – a tiny fraction of the 5.5 million eligible expats – are signed up to vote in UK elections, according to the Electoral Commission.

With this in mind, the UK Electoral Commission has launched a recruitment drive to get some 100,000 Brits to join the voting register by April 20th, the registration deadline.

So if you’re one of the number who want to vote from abroad but simply don’t know how then here are some guidelines: 

How to register:

Since the elections last May, all UK expats can now register to vote online, making the process a whole lot simpler.

You just have to complete the registration form online here.

But bear in mind that to be eligible to vote you must have been registered in a UK constituency within the last 15 years.

If you were too young when you left the UK to have been registered then you can still register as an overseas voter if your parents (or guardians) were registered in the UK in the last 15 years.

All you need to fill in the form is your National Insurance number and your date of birth. If you’ve lost or forgotten your National Insurance number you can still register, but may be asked for some extra information by your Electoral Registration Officer. 

The registration deadline is Monday April 20th.

How to vote:

There are three ways you can vote from overseas: by proxy (you designate someone you trust to vote on your behalf in the UK), by post or in person.

If you want to vote by post, make sure you check that you will have sufficient time to receive and return your postal ballot pack. Postal votes will usually be dispatched a few weeks before polling day. For your postal vote to count, it needs to be received back by the Returning Officer by 10pm on May 7th 2015. If you live a very long way away it may be that a proxy vote would provide a good alternative.

For more information about the 2015 general election click here.

Will you be voting in the UK elections and if so how will you be voting? If not, let us know why. Please leave a comment in the comments section below.  

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What it was like voting as an American in Germany right before the Berlin Wall fell

In a time when US absentee ballot signatures are being questioned, author Susan Signe Morrison remembers the 1988 election and a vexed incident of signature recognition.

What it was like voting as an American in Germany right before the Berlin Wall fell
Author Susan Morrison (left) and a friend at the Brandenburg Gate in November 1988. Photo: DPA

Registered in Rhode Island, I made sure to fill out the paperwork for my absentee ballot. I thought I was so clever.

One day in early October across the Atlantic Ocean, my ballot arrived in the mail. As I sat at my ample desk in Charlottenburg, the leafy suburb of (West) Berlin, I prepared to open the large envelope. A letter cutter came in handy. Picking up a black pen—I wanted to make sure it would be official (oh bright and shining mind!) –I voted. I signed the ballot. Sighing with self-satisfaction, I laid the pen down.

Then, I read the instructions.

Oh. You have to have your signature witnessed by a notary public. Not to worry, not to worry. Americans are less fussy obeying orders than the notorious Germans. I’ll just go to the American Embassy where they have such folks to get it notarised.

Pleased with my genius, I made my way to Jungfernheide U-Bahn station, took the U7 and changed at Fehrberlinerplatz for the U3. From Oskar-Helene-Heim Station, I walked on large cobbled streets, shiny from recent rain. I was careful not to slip on the white mulberry leaves decaying in the autumnal chill.

At the embassy, I was soon seen by an appropriately officious woman. If you can’t be officious at an embassy, where can you be? Smugly, I explained my idiocy.

“And so,” I concluded, “I was hoping someone could notarise my ballot.”

“May I see your passport?”

I handed over my blue document to ride almost anywhere. It was a golden ticket, envied the world over. Once, changing planes in Karachi, Pakistan (don’t ask), unable to avoid goats and swarms of fellow travellers, I managed finally to make it near the transfer desk.

Everyone bunched together with no concept of the queue in evidence. A small woman, I felt at a disadvantage. How could I ever get serviced? I noticed that those with similar blue pass books were being quickly processed. I then did something I’ve been ashamed of since. I used my nationality to get ahead. Throwing my passport onto the desk from four rows back, I found myself permitted to go on through.

Now, fate intervened to punish me for my hubris.

The woman looked at my signature on my ballot, signed the previous day, and that in my passport from four years earlier.

“These aren’t the same signature.”

Morrison's ID – and her notorious signature. Photo courtesy of the author. 

In disbelief, I protested. “But they are!”

“See?” she said, holding them both up for me to see.

The signature in the passport was rounded, still childish. It dated from the spring of 1984 before I began graduate school, an experience that altered my writing irrevocably. Now my signature was spiky, pointed, even illegible.

At this moment I did something I was incapable of controlling. I began to cry.

The thought of not being able to exercise my right to vote – especially for something so unjust as this – bid hot stupid tears to flood my eyeballs and trickle down my face. “It is the same signature,” I protested weakly.

How many people had protested – still protest –in embassies all over the world their innocence and their plight. Yes, mine was extremely minor. My little vote would make no difference to the world. Indeed, ultimately it didn’t.

The woman finally relented.

“I shouldn’t do this,” she said, imprinting my ballot with her stamp.

I gratefully took it, popping it in the mail.

I’d bucked the system, even though I felt as though the system had bucked me. In a letter, even my own mother said the official shouldn’t have stamped it.

My fervent hope is that others will not face the same dilemma I did. Or, if they do, they’ll be treated by an official who might do something she shouldn’t– the right thing.

Susan Signe Morrison, Professor of English literature at Texas State University, has published numerous scholarly books and a novel. Currently, she is working on a memoir about her experiences teaching in the GDR in the 1980s. She also recently talked about her experiences in an episode of the Cold War Conversations History Podcast.