Anyone who has seen the UK news recently will know that there was a general election on Thursday. I have always voted since I turned eighteen; not just because my mum told me I had to vote to exercise my right as a citizen and woman, but because I wanted to have my say. Yet, for the first time since I have legally been able to vote, I did not have my say in Thursday’s ballot.
According to an article in the Telegraph in February, there are an estimated 5.5 millions Brits living abroad and yet, as of March 2014, only 15,849 of these are registered to vote. This figure doesn’t surprise me.
There are two ways you can vote from abroad – by post or by proxy. The postal vote doesn’t work for me for obvious reasons, my mail takes about four weeks to arrive from the UK, sometimes longer. It would never make it here in time, let alone back home again. Even British expats living in Europe have had trouble getting their papers in time for this election according to several news articles. The second option is by proxy and sounds much easier. Except that the proxy has to be a close relative and has to vote in your previous constituency. Which in my case is a seven hour drive away from my nearest relative.
Earlier in the year there was a drive to get more expats to sign up to vote, and the newspaper headlines of Brits being able to register to vote online grabbed my attention. Great I thought, the voting system has finally embraced technology. But when my husband investigated further it turned out that it meant you could only register to vote using an online form, you still needed to vote by post or proxy. And when I tried to register I was told I couldn’t.
Some people might argue that I have given up my right to vote given that I don’t live in the UK at the moment. And I expect that some expats have left for good and don’t care much about what happens there. But I am still British and, although I don’t live in the UK at the moment, my absence is only temporary. I call Britain my home. And I am disappointed that I didn’t get to have my say in the future of Britain: a future that I will share. There are five more years now until the next election, let’s hope that next time I’ll manage to cast my vote.
I would love to hear from other expats – have you managed to vote since becoming an expat? Do you come from a country which has a better system of voting for expats than the UK? Or do you vote in the country you have moved to?