Hundreds, maybe thousands of EU citizens spent weeks registering online to vote in the incoming European Elections. Just four days before the registration deadline, they are told on a Friday afternoon, before a bank holiday weekend, that they have got it completely wrong and must register again by 7 May midnight.
If you are one of the thousands of EU citizens who has taken the time to register online to vote in the incoming European Parliamentary elections, the Electoral Commission has a message for you: You might have to do it again and quick!
Let that sink in a moment...
The Electoral Commission is indeed asking EU citizens who already registered online via two websites RegisterToVote.eu and Simple.GetVoting.org to take a moment during this bank holiday weekend – sorry if you planned a short-break away! – to quickly print, fill in and post their registration before midnight on Tuesday 7 May.
Alexandra Bulat, PhD researcher at University College London (UCL), Young Europeans Chair at the3million and EU citizen herself, recently tried to use the registration system on one of the websites mentioned by the Electoral Commission and indeed received an email from them this afternoon, which she shared on Twitter, letting her know that her application for registration to vote in the European Elections may not be accepted by local Electoral Registration Officers and that she should now register “the old-fashioned way with pen and paper” instead.
On its website, the Electoral Commission explains that any EU citizen not yet registered to vote in the European Election should apply at www.gov.uk/registertovote before the Tuesday 7 May deadline, and reminds them they must also print, complete and return a declaration form stating that they will only vote in the UK. The form can be downloaded at yourvotematters.co.uk and must be returned to the local Electoral Registration Officer by Tuesday 7 May.
The Electoral Commission thus explains that they “welcome efforts by campaigners to encourage eligible electors to register to vote. However, our advice to anyone not yet registered is to only apply directly at www.gov.uk/registertovote. We are aware that some websites have been set-up to encourage EU citizens to register. We have concerns about their ability to ensure Electoral Registration Officers will receive completed applications before the deadline. We are also concerned about their use of people’s data and have referred these websites to the Information Commissioner’s Office.”
The websites that have been referred to the Information Commissioner’s Office and which the Electoral Commission is recommending that EU citizens do not use are Registertovote.eu and Simple.getvoting.org as neither website has been endorsed by the Electoral Commission.
EU citizens have been prompt to express their anger at the Electoral Commission for communicating such information so late, especially after many calls had been made for the organisation to set up an online system to avoid the mess voters are now facing.
On Twitter, for example, they were understandably angry:
This is scandalous - after reneging on its 2014 commitment to instruct councils to send out the extra form needed by EU citizens the electoral commission now re-instates hurdles - disenfranchising EU citzens from their probably last nationwide vote.— the3million (@the3million) May 3, 2019
So let me get this straight @ElectoralCommUK:— Prof Tanja Bueltmann (@cliodiaspora) May 3, 2019
- You failed to do what you promised RE registering and informing EU citizens.
- You literally told us that it's on us to get EU citizens to register etc.
- Groups develop solutions.
- You say they should not be used.
Is this a joke?! https://t.co/ZBAxgKwFLo
If I was a conspiracy theorist I might suspect that the Government is trying to stop EU nationals voting in the MEP elections👺!— Mike Gingell #FBPE #RPU #RevokeA50 #Remain (@cothamboy54) May 3, 2019
The timing of the @ElectoralCommUK message on this is scandalous. 3:12pm on a Friday afternoon. With no working days before deadline. This must be investigated.— Axel Antoni (@antoni_UK) May 3, 2019
Scandalous. 15.10 on the Friday before a bank holiday? The U.K. is a banana republic. Shame on you— Allie Ferries R Us 💰🛳 🇪🇺 FBPE#RevokeA50 (@skiwithstyle1) May 3, 2019
This is disenfranchising 3m ppl & robs them of their right 2 have a say in the future of 500 million EU citizens! @guyverhofstadt @eucopresident @EUCouncil @EUlondonrep @JunckerEU Is this democracy? @coe @VeniceComm Is this legal in an EU country? #RevokeA50 #RevokeRemainRebuild pic.twitter.com/0oTRlnbV8n— Queen M #FBPE 🇪🇺#PECS testiculi ad brexitam (@csibike1) May 3, 2019
You're issuing advice at 4.10pm on the Friday before a bank holiday? Seriously? This is patently unfair. Please do what you've done on other occasions when there's been a communication SNAFU & extend the deadline. #EUelections2019 #VoterSuppression— KT #Ode2Joy Parker🐬 (@lunaperla) May 3, 2019
cc .@MollyMEP .@ClareMoodyMEP
After being informed of the registration mess, we decided to write to the Electoral Commission to ask them to clarify a few points for our readers, which we thought were important to understand what was happening:
- We asked them to comment on the anger EU citizens are expressing at the Electoral Commission on social media for the chaotic situation they put them before the bank holiday weekend;
- We also asked the Commission if they could explain with more details the reasons for this sudden decision and why it had to be taken on a Friday afternoon, on a bank holiday weekend, with a deadline on Tuesday;
- We asked the Electoral Commission whether they could comment on the way EU citizens feel they are being prevented from voting;
- Finally, we asked the Electoral Commission whether there is any way at all for the 7 May deadline to be extended in order to help with the re-registration of hundreds or thousands of EU citizens who had registered via the two websites mentioned and will thus be prevented from voting on 23 May if they cannot meet the 7 May deadline.
What would prevent after all the Electoral Commission from extending the deadline until at least Friday 10 May, for instance, so that people have more time to complete the 19th-century pen and paper form they imposed in the first place?
The Electoral Commission replied to our questions this evening. Our readers will be able to make their own opinion about the way the Electoral Commission answered or not our very specific questions:
“We issued our statement today because our advice to any EU citizens not yet registered to vote for the European Parliamentary elections is that they should use the official www.gov.uk/registertovote website to do so. And they should print and complete the declaration form from www.yourvotematters.co.uk and return it to their Electoral Registration Officers. These are established and official websites.
We have concerns about the use of data by some newly established websites and have referred them to the ICO. The ICO have recently tweeted to say that they are making enquiries into these websites.
We, like a number of campaign groups, want to see EU citizens not yet registered to vote to go online and submit their application at the gov.uk address before the 7 May deadline.
On your question about extending the deadline for EU citizens to register to vote, that would require a change to the law. You should contact the Cabinet Office, the UK Government department with responsibility for electoral law.”
(Electoral Commission, 3 May 2019.)
According to their answer to our questions, the matter does not seem to be so much about the system used on the mentioned websites, but rather “concerns about the use of data” by the websites.
Upon suggestion from the Electoral Commission, we have anyway contacted the Cabinet Office to ask them whether the 7 May deadline could be extended because of the mess caused by the Commission this afternoon in order for EU citizens to be able to re-register to vote in the European Elections on 23 May.🔷
The Cabinet Office has been contacted for comments by PMP Magazine. We hope to receive an answer as soon as possible on whether the 7 May deadline can be extended.
Update 5 May 2019:
- the3million have tweeted the following statement, endorsing the online registration app mentioned by the Electoral Commission:
“Over the last 2 days we have been communicating with the developers of the online registration app. After developers’ confirmation we are now satisfied that the Electoral Commission’s concerns about data harvesting are unfounded. We are therefore happy to promote the online registration tool. There are only 2 days left to register to vote in the #EUElections2019. It only takes 5 minutes! Do it now! https://simple.getvoting.org/
P.S. Your right to vote is equally important to us than your right to data privacy. I hope you understand that we took our time to officially endorse this excellent registration app. simple.getvoting.org”
(@the3million, 5 May 2019.)
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(This is an original piece, first published by the author in PoliticsMeansPolitics.com. | The author writes in a personal capacity.)