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Voting in the UK General Election

By Mr Grumpy - Thu 13th May 2010

Like many expats, I still take an interest in UK Politics – especially with regards to a change of government or key politicians, as these matters inevitably have an effect on things like the currency exchange rate, or my voluntary pension contributions, and so on.

Of course I should have done something before now, but as soon as I heard that a general election date had been announced I decided that I wanted to vote, and sought to find out how I should go about this.

The adverts on TV referred me to go to a website called ‘aboutmyvote’ to check the exact procedure – which I learned was contacting my last council in the UK to inform them that I was now an overseas voter, and secondly to request either a postal or proxy vote. Having perhaps a misplaced confidence in the system, I opted for a postal vote.

This is where I took a gamble – The election was announced on the 6th of April, to take part on the 6th May and all overseas voting registrations had to be received back, signed and completed, by the 20th of April in order that the Ballot papers could be posted back out to the voter.

This I managed to do with little problem, however, I was out of the country (In the UK oddly enough) between the 23rd and 1st May. To make matters worse, the first postal day after my return was the 3rd of May, which meant that I had to post my completed ballot paper back to the UK by the 6th.

My vote did get posted back, but I have no idea if it was registered and went towards my candidate’s count.

Of course, I have no complaint about the system (with regards to me and my situation) – it was my choice to leave it so late to register as an overseas voter, and my choice to be out of the country to enable me to vote in sufficient time.

But I was concerned to hear that the overall voting system had been a complete cock-up. Many expats were reporting that when they received their envelopes from their respective councils in the UK, that the ballot paper was NOT included in the envelope (the important bit!) and that on contacting the council’s returning officer they were told that there was not sufficient time to send out a new ballot paper.

Furthermore, thousands of serving soldiers overseas had experienced similar problems and they too were either unable to vote, or their ballot papers had not reached the returning officer in time.

Add this to the much publicised fiasco of voters being turned away from the polling stations and you can see that I share the frustration of the voting (ha!) public. It leaves me with a number of points or questions:

1.) Paying council tax and being on the electoral role is mandatory and registering as an overseas voter is optional, however, the councils MUST know the exact number of the population eligible to vote in their ward. Howso can then some council claim that they did not have enough resources (In some case officials counting the votes, in other cases actual ballot papers)? - Isn't also this exactly something that is paid for by the public included in council taxes? - So is not receiving this service, when paid for, classed as fraud?

2.) Surely there must be a contingency for NOT turning voters away from the booths if they had arrived at the Polling station in good time? – Like maybe locking them inside the room and supervising them until they had managed to cast their vote? – Who says that the gate must close by 10pm under all circumstances? - What happens if somebody was to cast a vote after 10pm - would they spontaneously combust?

3.) Doesn’t the Ministry of Defence know exactly how many serving officers they have overseas at any one time? Perhaps the very people that deserve a vote and a say in the way that the government is run is those that are prepared to put their lives on the line? - If I believed in conspiracy theories I might suggest that they may be concerned on how these soldiers may vote.

4.) What right does the UK Government now have in interfering in the Elections of other developing countries, like Iran or Afganistan, if they can’t even get their own house in order? Maybe the UN should send Inspectors and a Peace Keeping force over to the UK the next time an election is called.

5.) It is not that long ago that young women starved themselves to death or threw themselves under racehorses just for the privilege of having their voice heard - and not that much further back that being a voter was a position held by only a select and chosen few. For democracy to have taken to many years to advance to this point, only for the public to have their vote denied due to nothing more than incompetancy is ridiculous.

In some countries of the civilised world it is seen as a crime NOT to vote (although voting ‘none of the above’ is an option) and fines are even issued for those who do NOT turn out to vote. If you asked me last year I would have thought that this approach was a little extreme, however, since the general election has been held I am warming to the idea.

Being British citizen I am proud to be a member of a very exclusive club, and part of a country who prides itself on ‘doing things properly’. The UK is not a third world country although my confidence in the whole system has taken a beating.

I will make a note to myself in future to remember this whenever I have a moan about the whole system and the way that things are done over here in Spain.

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