Several British citizens living in Germany have confirmed to The Local that they have not received their postal votes in time for Thursday’s vote, with local authorities being painfully slow in their responses to enquiries.
Although the scale of the problem is not known, George Cunningham, chair of Brits Abroad: Yes to Europe, wrote on this site on Tuesday that “thousands of British voters abroad might find their vote in this week's crucial referendum is wasted, after some local councils left sending out ballots until the last minute.”
Around 300,000 expat Brits have registered to vote in the referendum, and with surveys suggesting 70 percent support among expats for remaining in the EU, this could be a significant voting block in a vote that polls suggest could come down to the wire.
This latest worrying news comes after The Local reported earlier in the month that some German Post workers were demanding payment from Brits when they tried to send in their ballots, despite the fact that postage was supposed to be prepaid.
'I have no voice'
Anne Higgins, a Brit who has been in Berlin for one year, says she has been left “totally fuming” after her local authority messed up her postal vote.
She registered to vote on time, but her polling card was only dispatched from the council in Morden, London, on June 16th, Higgins says.
Postal ballots are not sent with special delivery, meaning that they take between five and seven days to arrive, a fact Higgins says should have been clear to the electoral office.
“I've always known this and I'm assuming anyone with a brain in the electoral office knows this too,” she says.
When her ballot still hadn’t arrived a week before Thursday’s vote, Higgins started to worry and got in touch with the Morden office.
The only option she was given was that they send her a new polling card. The hitch was that it was two days before the vote and they refused to pay for next-day delivery.
Footing the bill herself would have cost £90 (€117) but even this seems like it won’t get the job done: Higgins' sister faced problems when she tried to deliver the polling card for her from London.
“When my sister got to the Parcelforce post office, they laughed and said there was no way the second issue of my polling card would come on time even if we paid for two next-day deliveries.”
Despite the fracas, the electoral office did not offer her the chance of voting with an emergency proxy vote, Higgins says.
Higgins eventually received this email response from the electoral office: “Oh I am so sorry that after all we went through it did not end successfully. I can only apologize specially as you are currently an EU resident”.
“So despite being registered and having a future strongly invested in the outcome of this referendum, I have no voice,” says Higgins.
Donna Laver, who is on a year abroad in Berlin, was informed that her polling card had been sent out at the start of June.
But by June 10th it still hadn’t arrived so she called her local authority in Doncaster to find out why.
They told her to wait. When she called back on June 13th, she was told she would have to wait until June 17th for a replacement to be sent.
Her ballot eventually arrived on Monday, so the earliest she could post it was Tuesday – two days before the vote.
Laver had to swallow a bitter pill and pay €46 for special delivery.
“Obviously this is a really big point in the UK’s history and I felt that i needed to vote, so with no other way of getting it there I had to pay the ridiculous amount for a courier service,” she says.
Finlay Hogg, who lives in Munich, also registered within the recommended time frame, but is still waiting on his ballot.
His constituency in Dundee had assured him that he would get his ballot ten days before the vote. When he called last Friday, they told him it had been sent out on June 14th.
Although he hasn’t seen the post on Thursday, it is now too late to make his voice heard.
How angry is he?
“Maybe ask me that tomorrow,” he says, wryly.
According to Cunningham, efficiency in sending out ballots has varied drastically from council to council.
While expats registered in constituencies such as Lewisham, Hammersmith and Swansea informed him they had received their postal votes weeks before the referendum, people registered in Taunton (Somerset), Eastleigh and Kettering had still not received them.
Other Brits informed The Local that their ballots had arrived on time and that the process was smooth.
“Mine turned up ages ago and was posted back free without any issues,” one Brit told us.