A record number of British expats could be preparing to take part in next month’s general election with figures showing a recent 10% rise in the number registered to vote. But it is still only a small amount of the estimates 5.5 million British citizens living abroad who will exercise their right to have a say in who runs the next government.
Figures from the Electoral Commission show there are just 14,000 registered expat voters. The election, confirmed for May 06, is expected to be one of the closest in recent years with some political pundits even predicting a hung parliament.
It is the Conservative party that is leading the campaign for expats to take part with a website dedicated to how to vote if you live abroad. Time is running out for those expats who have not already registered.
The Electoral Commission, the body that oversees UK elections, said that the electoral registration office of where you were last registered must receive a completed form, downloadable from the internet, 11 working days before election day giving a deadline of April 20. Given the vagaries of the postal system, expats may only have a few days left to do this, a spokeswoman said.
You can register to vote by post for a set period of time or in all forthcoming elections, but your ballot paper may not be sent until four working days before election day. But for expats living any farther afield than Europe, there is a strong chance the ballot paper would arrive too late. In these circumstances potential voters are urged to set up a proxy vote where they appoint someone living in the UK to vote on their behalf. That means telling the proxy the political party or individual candidate for whom they wish to vote.
‘Proxy voters don’t necessarily have to live in the constituency and turn up in person on election day. They can use a postal proxy vote, which means they can register your vote anywhere in the country,’ said the spokeswoman. In Australia the opposition Liberal party has started an email campaign urging British expats to vote. It is estimated that there are 1.3 million expats in the country who are eligible to vote.
It is backing the Conservative Party. British foreign secretary David Milliband has also been quoted in Australian newspapers urging expats to vote. ’So many of the laws passed in the UK affect the lives of British citizens living overseas. By registering and voting in the general election expats can have a say on the policies that will shape their future,’ explained Conservative Party Chairman Eric Pickles.
There have also been campaigns in Spain and Cyprus urging expats to vote. More information can be found on the Electoral Commissions website.