Lord Tony Greaves calls for action to register young people and ex-pats for the referendum

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Tony Greaves used the committee stage of the European Union Referendum Bill to press the government to sort out the voting system for people living in other European countries who may be at risk of losing their chance to vote in the Referendum which is due before the end of 2017 and perhaps as early as June next year – together with some in the UK itself.

Sounds simple enough, although in this year’s general election the system had a shortfall of several million UK citizens living abroad who were eligible to vote but could not physically do so due to administrative problems in getting registered, being correctly identified and actually receiving the postal ballot paper itself.

Out of more than two million UK nationals living in EU countries, only 100,000 were able to successfully vote in this year’s general election. Lord Greaves said:

If only 100,000 were able to be on the register for the general election, clearly, the system up to now has not worked – even though the figure was increased by three times. Three times not many is still not many.

He moved an amendment to the Bill to make sure that the Electoral Commission makes special efforts to get votes on the register once the date is known – both British citizens living in the EU and those who will be missed off the register when the new system of individual registration starts a year early (something the Liberal Democrats in the Lords tried to stop and failed by just 11 votes the previous week).

He said:

The new system of individual registration to get on the voters’ list will come in from December this year and throughout the country 1.8 million names will be removed from the new register. Many of these are people who will miss out through clerical and administrative errors in the system – partly people whose numbers have not matched with the National Insurance database.

Lord Greaves told the peers that the problem is that nobody really knows how many of those names are genuine voters who should be there and how many are not. “So the challenge will be to make sure that the real voters get back on the electoral register.”

For overseas voters trying to get themselves on the electoral register there are then several hurdles they must get around if they are going to be able to actually vote.

The first obstacle is registering to vote and the second is applying for and receiving a postal vote. The electoral registration can now be done online, but what if the national insurance number that you have to give now in order to be put on the electoral register is not validated by the Department of Work and Pensions? That happens with lots of people.

If the national insurance number does not match up then further proof of identification is needed such as a passport or driving licence, which can be quite difficult for those living outside the UK to send back and have it processed correctly before the deadline is up.

Also, the postal vote applications have to be in writing (by post or fax) which is a more complicated process. Lord Greaves said:

I have talked to people who managed to get on the electoral register but did not manage to get through the hoops of getting a postal vote. There seem to be some bureaucratic obstacles in this situation which are causing more difficulties for people in Europe.

The Electoral Commission will have to make very special efforts indeed, together with the Government, if people living in other European countries are not to be deprived of the vote in the referendum to which they are properly entitled.

* Elliot Margison is a Parliamentary Assistant to Lord Tony Greaves

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26 Comments

  • Richard Underhill 11th Nov '15 - 11:40am

    Please try asking questions about the quantity and quality of the NI database, bering in mind Liberal democrat policy on ID cards.

  • So you can’t win the argument on the issues, so let’s gerrymander the system to bring in politically naive young people, who you reckon will support your view at this time in their lives, and of course not forgetting those who have abandoned the UK to live on the continent, and have a vested interest in remaining tied to the EU, are another prime source of IN voters.

    Why don’t you campaign for illegal immigrants , asylum seekers, or perhaps the residents of Brittany to have a vote, after all they are mostly descended from the celtic Britons who left these shores during the post Roman early medieval period. You could also include the French residents of Normandy and most of the channel coast for that matter, after all they were once sort of English by force of arms. What about adopting the idea of the Mormon church that by identifying your dead ancestors, you can bring them into the family of the church, you could have thousands, perhaps millions of long dead proxy votes for staying in the EU, from all the dead Greaves, Fallon’s and Ashdown’s dotted through history.
    You could go the whole hog I suppose, and give everybody with British descendants in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or South Africa a vote, although you wouldn’t be sure be sure they would support your gerrymandering, so we had better not go there.

    As a bunch of idealogues,( I refuse to honour you with the title democrats), you will do anything to achieve your duplicitous aim, you will stoop to any level to impose your views, and you choose to ignore the message from the British electorate who have reached their majority, and who have decided that your role in our governance should be marginalised.

    You are perverters of demcoracy, and too thick skinned to care.. Shame on you!!

  • Tony Greaves 11th Nov '15 - 12:52pm

    Nice man

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Nov '15 - 2:25pm

    I would like to give more voting rights to migrants and fewer to expats. It doesn’t seem fair if you are an expat and you an accrue full voting rights in several different countries, because this is what will happen if we see the vote as only something to give and not take away.

    As I have said before: it should be like the tax system where the main thing that matters (effectively) is where you are ordinarily resident. However some expats hate this idea. But they shouldn’t be able to have it both ways.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Nov ’15 – 2:25pm………………..I would like to give more voting rights to migrants and fewer to expats. It doesn’t seem fair if you are an expat and you an accrue full voting rights in several different countries, because this is what will happen if we see the vote as only something to give and not take away…………..As I have said before: it should be like the tax system where the main thing that matters (effectively) is where you are ordinarily resident. However some expats hate this idea. But they shouldn’t be able to have it both ways……………

    Where are these countries that give ‘expats’ full voting rights in several different countries….I was not granted full voting rights in France and Spain has the same rules……These, I’d contend, are the main countries for ‘expats’ and, after 15 years abroad, I’d lose my right to vote in the UK…

    Giving migrants extra rights would allow THEM to vote in more than one country, a practice you seem to abhor…

  • Raddity
    In the recent election in Burma, Burmese living outside the country were given the right to vote. In fact many countries give their overseas citizens the right to vote.It is seen as a sign that they are full democracies.
    Amongst British overseas British workers there are indeed some Labour supporters.
    In years past there has been high unemployment in the UK which has meant people seek work abroad.
    They did so in the 1970s and after the crash of 2008.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Nov '15 - 4:10pm

    expats, good point on giving migrant votes would allow them to vote in more than one country (if their country of origin didn’t implement similar rules).

    Well, I suppose some would like the UK to become one of these countries. The UK can offer who it likes a vote, but people who have no intention of returning shouldn’t be able to vote. I know there is the state pension, but it seems like a conflict of interest otherwise and some of these people might not have a big stake in their home country anymore.

    We could then however get a situation where some expats aren’t allowed to vote anywhere.

    I just think we need a solution that doesn’t involve giving both migrants and expats the vote easily. Maybe we have that situation now, but people aren’t aware of the rules and often don’t apply for the necessary passports.

    When it comes to the European referendum: I would be worried about the legitimacy of giving 16-18 year olds plus immigrants and expats the vote. It would look like a kind of liberal fix.

  • Eddie
    I pay tax where I am ordinary resident. (In most countries of the world people who live in those countries have to pay tax) The question of paying tax has no bearing on voting rights.Students in higher education get the vote but don’t normally pay tax.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Nov '15 - 4:18pm

    Hi Manfarang, I don’t mean it really out of a point of principle: I mean it out of simplicity and to establish a package of national rights and obligations, but we would probably need a lot of international agreements to create this.

  • Eddie
    The vote was given to Britons overseas back in the mid 1980s. Few of them registered to vote so I don’t think it is any liberal fix. It was the case many years ago that British people living in Canada could vote in elections, but that was stopped years ago. It takes years to become a citizen of Canada.

  • @Raddiy – since it’s the young who will have their life chances most affected by the results of this referendum, I think it is entirely fair that an extra effort should be made to enable them to vote (whichever way they choose).

  • Glenn Andrews 11th Nov '15 - 5:29pm

    @Raddiy – since those born before 1957 have already voted on EU membership the young deserve a say more than the old. In fact shouldn’t we just restrict the forthcoming referendum to citizens who were born after that date?….. what do you reckon?

  • @Glenn Andrews – not votes for those who voted in the last EU referendum. I like 🙂

  • Good to see you can still wind up the right wing headbangers, Tony. Keep up the good work.

    How does the American system work ? I seem to recall the Democrats and Republicans organise votes in the UK for Presidential elections………………… equally, I wouldn’t let tax exile non doms like Richard Desmond, the Barclay brothers and the Harmsworths have a vote…. and lastly… do Peers of the Realm have a vote (I guess they do).

  • @ JUF
    @ Glenn Andrews

    Since you are both concerned that the 16- 18 year olds deserve a say, why not the 14-16 years olds, or the 6-8 years olds, what is so special about 16 to 18, compared to younger age groups. Won’t they all be affected.

    Politicians are obsessed with interfering in the lives of 16-18 year olds, they won’t let them leave school, they won’t let them drink or even buy alcohol for their family, they won’t let them smoke or buy cigarettes for their family, they won’t even allow them to buy solvent based products to do DIY with . They won’t let them watch violence or smut at the cinema, they won’t let them fight for their country. They certainly don’t consider them adults otherwise they wouldn’t be discriminated against with regard to the lower level of the minimum wage they get, or on their access to benefits and social housing. etc. etc. etc.
    If you are so concerned with them being treat as adults with regard to voting on the EU, why didn’t the LibDems campaign when in power to lower the age of all the above to 16. How on earth can they be expected to form a balanced opinion on the issues , if they are legally considered children denying them the opportunity to participate in them to understand what they are voting for.

    Either do it properly and give them all the rights of an 18 year old, or stop attempting to exploit them because of the belief right or wrong that the young are usually idealogically of the left.

    @ Tony Greaves.

    ” Nice Man”

    Since when did nice come into the equation

    LibDems seem to spend at least once a year raising this issue in the House of Commons and the Lords, you would think there was nothing else to do.
    Perhaps you could tell us if the LibDems are also campaigning to remove all 16 to 18 restrictions including those I have highlighted above, surely if they are old enough to vote, they are old enough to understand the risks of alcohol and smoking, and make a judgement accordingly.
    I’ll go along with your vote at 16, as long as you agree to let them risk getting shot in the army, bladdered in the local boozer, smoke like a chimney and sniff glue if they want to, after all in your world they are adults. Or do you think you should still have the right to stop them doing these things, whilst exploiting them for electoral purposes by giving them occasional adult status.

    If these issues are not of concern to you, why aren’t they?

  • Little Jackie Paper 11th Nov '15 - 9:43pm

    Raddiy – For what it’s worth, I think that’s spot on. Either there is an age where someone has full rights or there isn’t. The kind of staging we have is wholly unsatisfactory in most cases. Either it’s full-blown adulthood or it’s not, anything else is just a mess. Nothing to do with the matter and hand, but a good illustration of the point.

    For me, votes should be at 18.

    Anyway, I’ll let you carry on getting it all off your chest.

  • David Raw
    Americans living overseas can voting in federal elections. Voting is implemented by the states.
    I see no reason why British citizens living overseas should not get a vote in the EU Referendum.
    Retirees have paid tax and NI and many of those working overseas pay NI and other taxes when they visit the UK.
    The Barclay brothers live in the Channel Islands which is part of the customs union but otherwise outside the EU.
    Channel Islanders don’t vote in UK elections.

  • Raddiy 11th Nov ’15 – 9:20pm…….

    Very well put…When I first voted the voting age limit was 21. The main argument used to get the voting age reduced was that, at 18, “We were able to drink, marry, serve in the armed services, etc”….and yet treated like children in being denied a vote on those matters that directly affected us…..In other words; an unacceptable anomaly!

    If the proposal for 16-18 year olds goes through then we just create another anomaly albeit from the opposite direction…

  • Little by little I feel my democracy is slipping away.

    Where do we all think this is going – more power being centralised in Brussels, the people having less and less of a say in their lives, and an increasing hopelessness that the machinery to change anything will be irrevocably lost.

    Political chicanery to achieve the result required by a self-selected few in a referendum is one thing, but if that chicanery is used to increase the anger and powerlessness of an already disenfranchised population, the result is that more people will walk away from the democratic process, at best, and outright civil disobedience will become the norm, at worst.

    Democracy is not a game.

  • First chance to have a look at this thread since my last post, I see Tony Greaves has avoided answering my question to him about why he is not campaigning for 16-18 yr olds to have full adult rights across everything, if they are to be given the vote.

    Come on Mr Greaves, don’t be shy, let’s have you out of that cupboard you are hiding in and answer the question, I’m sure other LibDems would like to hear your views on whether a 16 year old should be able to buy a solvent based product, in order to have a good sniffter to clear his head before making a decision on how to vote in the EU referendum

  • Tony Greaves 14th Nov '15 - 5:07pm

    Of course Liberal Democrats want to extend the vote to 16 years olds. But this Bill is about the referendum. The Conservatives have promil sed to extend the vote to 16 years olds, (in their manifesto I’m told) but not just yet.

    I remember a long time ago (David Raw will also remember) campaigning with the Young Liberals for Votes at 18. All the same arguments were trotted out but the Labour government legislated for it a few years later.

    Tony Greaves

  • @ Tony Greaves

    I think as somebody has already pointed out on the thread, reducing the voting age to 18 simply brought it in line with the full spectrum of adult rights that 18 year olds already had.

    The question I asked, for which you gave a politicians response, was would the LIbDems be campaigning not only for the 16 year old to get the basic vote, but also the full spectrum of rights to drink, smoke, buy glue to sniff, leave school, die in war fighting,and to receive the same benefit and minimum pay rates that an 18 year old adult gets.

    It’s not a hard question to answer , which makes it puzzling why you chose to obfuscate.

  • SIMON BANKS 16th Nov '15 - 5:00pm

    The heading: the word is expats (for expatriates, people living outside – that’s the EX – their country). Hyphenate it and it suggests the EX means former as in ex-offender. “Ex-pats” is a questionable term for former Irishmen.

  • Richard Underhill 16th Nov '15 - 11:06pm

    This is Liberal Democrat policy. We voted for it decades agao in a White Paper presented to federal conference by Tim Clement-Jones. Other parts of the policy have been implemented. David Cameron and Alex Salmond agreed to votes for 16 and 17 year olds for the Scottish refeferendum. Those same people were denied the vote in the general election of May 2015 if they were under 18, If the EU referendum happens early in 2016 some of the same people would be denied the vote again, which would have sad consequences. Reducing the voting age is simply the right thing to do. There was a brilliant 16 year old at conference in Glasgow, who siad that at 16 they will get into the habit of voting as a family, whereas at 18 they may have left home and entered a different world.

  • This country will have to live with the outcome of the referendum for many years to come. It would be wrong if it was decided by people like me who are retired. We have had our careers and raised our families. The people who will have to deal with the future are those who are younger and are just starting out. It is right that they should have a vote in their future. Don’t assume that, because they are young, they are incapable of understanding the issues. They can take in the facts and arguments from both sides and make their decisions the same as the rest of us. Votes in the referendum for 16 and 17 year olds are the only fair way.

  • Kevin James 26th Feb '16 - 1:27pm

    Is there any current initiative of any sort (or any legal or constitutional channel) to allow 15+ year expat (overseas) UK citizens to vote, or take action to be given the right to vote, in the EU referendum?

    As such an expat, can I vote if I return now to my family home in the UK and register to vote?

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