Following our reporting of today’s situation with EU citizens being denied their votes in polling stations, we have contacted the Electoral Commission and asked them some questions.
First published in May 2019.
EU27 citizens who were not registered for this election, mostly because their form had not been received in time (our magazine had mentioned that possibility three weeks ago), were very likely going to end up being denied the right to vote in the European Elections today.
We contacted the Electoral Commission and asked them a few questions about the situation. Here are the answers given to us this evening by Hannah Law, Senior Communications Officer at the Electoral Commission.
Couldn’t EU citizens, who didn’t manage to get registered for this election, have signed the extra form at their polling stations instead? Why wasn’t this allowed since the beginning, or as soon as the Electoral Commission got aware of the situation?
Hannah Law. — I want to start by saying that we do understand the frustration of some citizens of other EU Member States, resident in the UK, who have been finding they are unable to vote today when they wish to do so.
In answer to your question, EU citizens cannot sign the declaration form at their polling stations. If an EU citizen chooses to vote in the EU election in the UK, there is a process for them to complete to essentially transfer their right to vote to the UK. This is a requirement of EU law, which specifies that this has to be done “sufficiently in advance of polling day”. UK law sets this as 12 working days in advance of the poll. This is to ensure EU citizens are voting in one country only. Any changes to this law are a matter for the Government and Parliament.
The Electoral Commission has had a tendency to blame the local authorities for the issue of registrations of EU citizens, but the local authorities also blame the Electoral Commission.Is nobody responsible for this then?
H.L. — This legal process could be made easier for citizens, and the Commission made the case for doing so following the last EU elections in 2014. However, improvements to the process are reliant on changes to electoral law, which can only be taken forward by Government and Parliament.
The very short notice from the government of the UK’s participation in these elections impacted on the time available for awareness of this process amongst citizens, and for citizens to complete the process.
Will the Electoral Commission open an investigation to understand what has happened and publish a full report on what and who is responsible for what happened today, so that voters can trust that the Commission is being transparent with them – this is essential in a democracy?
H.L. — EU citizens’ right to vote in the election in the Member State they are from remains unaffected by the change in the UK’s participation; in order to do so, they would need to be registered in that country in accordance with that country’s process and timetable.
We will address EU citizen registration at the 2019 European Parliamentary elections in our statutory post-poll reporting.
Finally, why were registered citizens who had been told by phone, email or post that they would be allowed to vote, turned away today too?
H.L. — I’m afraid I’m not able to comment on individual cases.
The Electoral Commission’s answers will certainly not satisfy the thousands of European citizens who were denied their right to vote today. More than words, they will want to see actions, whether it comes from the Commission itself or the Government.
The blaming game between Local Authorities, Electoral Commission and Government must stop.
The Government is now facing calls to launch an inquiry, with lawyers already saying that today’s appalling polling stations situation has breached EU law and could lead to a possible group action.🔷