Bit of a rush of blog posts recently. I guess I'm getting frustrated with having to squeeze everything into 140-character tweets.
So, election last week, eh? It just happened I was in the UK on polling day, so I was planning to vote in person. The Thatcher government gave the vote to expatriates courtesy of the Representation of the People Act 1985 - presumably because they assumed expats were wealthy types who'd vote Conservative. I'd registered by faxing the registration form to my local council's registration office a few days before the deadline.
Come polling day, Tara went to vote herself in the morning - and just happened to ask the polling clerk to check the register for my name. Nope, it wasn't there. She was given the phone number of the council electoral registration office, which I rang to ask what was up. The person on the other end was helpful but apologetic, and told me that if I'd faxed my form "our fax machine had printed some pages out blank", and mine was probably one of them. Hrm. Not so great - I remember waiting for the fax machine to spit out a confirmation that it had sent the form successfully, so I was pretty sure it was sent okay - must have been a problem at their end. The council were very apologetic, but it was too late for anything to be done.
No vote for me, then - I knew I wasn't going to get to vote by arguing with the council, but I was suddenly curious to know how many other forms may have been lost by their fax machine or through other means. This became more important when our constituency, Oxford West and Abingdon, was lost to the Tories by a slim margin of 176 votes. How much closer could it have been had everyone who'd wanted to vote been able to vote?
I sent a Freedom of Information request to the council elections office a couple of days ago asking for details of how many forms were lost, how many overseas voters' postal ballots were received after polling day, and various other bits and pieces of statistics. They've replied to firstly point out that the Returning Officer isn't actually bound by the FOI Act, but that they're happy to give me the information once they've finished getting all their numbers together after the election. This will be some time after the 28th of May, and I look forward to hearing from them.
It's very clear that there are major issues with electoral registration for overseas voters in general. For those who have postal votes, ballot papers aren't usually sent out until about a week before polling day - scarcely enough time for them to reach the voter in some countries, and even more unlikely that they'll be returned on time even from many countries in Europe. In the UK, the rule is that postal votes have to be received by polling day, unlike other countries where they can still be opened and taken into account up to a number of days after polling day if the election is close enough to warrant it.
The evidence suggests that overseas voter fraud is still a big problem as well, given the lack of checks and balances in the system which ensures that only people who are entitled to vote are allowed to vote. It's really time to bring the whole system of overseas voting up to date and remove the corruption from the system - to rely on mailing around pieces of paper on very tight deadlines or on faxing through forms to broken fax machines is disenfranchising tens of thousands of expatriates. I'd be in favour of solving the corruption and timing problems by only allowing expats to vote at British diplomatic posts or other designated secure overseas polling stations, for instance, and I don't think anyone would object strongly to being asked to produce some ID to prove they are who they claim to be.
The whole system just seems to be a mess. It's very disheartening to expats who care enough about the country to bother to vote - after all, it's entirely likely that we'll find ourselves back there some day.