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VOTING RIGHTS AND REGISTERING TO VOTE

Registering to vote in the UK

British Citizens in France who have been registered to vote in the UK at any time within the past 15 years can register as overseas voters. Those who were too young to register when they left the UK must have a parent or guardian who has been registered. Registered overseas voters are eligible to vote in elections for the UK General Elections and European Parliamentary elections, but not UK local government elections or elections for the devolved assemblies. The British Government's on-line voter registration system has now been launched. If you have not lived outside the UK for more than 15 years, and your last address in the UK was in England or Wales, you can register to vote in the General Election by going to https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

You can use this service to get on the electoral register or to update your details. Registering takes around 5 minutes. You’ll need your National Insurance number, if you have one, and your passport details. Unfortunately, if you left the UK 15 years or more ago the system will reject your application.

Application must be made to the electoral registration office of the constituency where you were last resident in the UK. To find their address, look on the Electoral Commission website for the “Your local area” section, and enter the postcode of the your most recent address in the UK.

Once you are registered, you can choose to vote in person at their local polling station if you are in the UK on Election Day. If not, you can apply to vote by post or by proxy.

British citizens living abroad have to renew their voter registration every year.

Votes for all British expats

Many British expats think it scandalous that those who have lived abroad for more than 15 years are deprived of the right to vote – unlike the expat citizens of most civilized countries, including the United States, France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. The British Community Committee (BCC) has been concerned for many years about the denial of voting rights to British expat citizens, and we shall continue to campaign for a change in the law to remove the 15-year ban.

James Preston takes the UK to Court
over denial of voting rights

On 11 March 2010, lawyers acting on behalf of James Preston applied for judicial review of the British law that strips British citizens living overseas for more than 15 years of the right to vote in Parliamentary elections. Mr. Preston’s lawyers argue that the law penalizes British citizens as a result of their exercise of free movement and establishment rights guaranteed by the European Union, in violation of European Law.

Mr. Preston, born in Leicester, now lives and works in Madrid, Spain after being posted there by his British employer 15 years ago. He says: “I’m a British citizen and only a British citizen, married to a British wife and both of us work for British firms. I read British papers, my children attend a British school and my estate taxes are owed to the British government when I die. This law penalizes me for taking advantage of the opportunities that the British government promised to all citizens when Britain joined the EU. The spirit of this law is entirely inconsistent with British democratic traditions as well as our foreign policy, where we work to bring democracy to far off corners of the world.”

Unlike the United States or other major countries in the European Union, such as France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, the United Kingdom strips citizens of the right to vote in Parliamentary elections for the mere fact of having resided abroad for more than 15 years. Though exceptions exist for the military, civil servants and British Council employees, all other citizens, including Church of England missionaries and English teachers at British schools around the corner from the British Council, lose the right to vote after 15 years abroad. In addition to British citizens like Mr. Preston, the only other citizens who do not enjoy the right to vote are children, individuals who suffer from mental illness, and convicted criminals.

Mr Preston is represented by Romano Subiotto QC of Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP and Daniel Jowell of Brick Court Chambers, London, both of whom are acting on a pro bono basis in view of the important constitutional issue raised by this case.

Romano Subiotto QC notes that “The British voting law penalizes British citizens who exercise their fundamental rights to move freely between European Union countries. It prevents British citizens from enjoying the same free movement rights guaranteed to the citizens of other EU countries. This law is an anachronism in this day and age of easy, quick, and reliable communications.”