Thursday, 6 May 2010

How full is the expat ballot box?

As election fever grips the UK and polling stations up and down the country are inundated with voters, we ask how engaged is the expat community? Have you voted? Are you eligible to vote or do you know how to register whilst living outside the country?

The criteria for being eligible to vote are actually pretty simple. Firstly you need to have been registered to vote in the UK at any time in the past 15 years and secondly been living abroad for less than 15 years. As you can imagine a large percentage of the expat community would tick both of these boxes yet its estimated that of the 2.5 million British citizens living abroad and eligible to vote, only 13,987 were registered by the end of 2009. Indeed the Wall Street Journal recently suggested that this expat voter apathy may have a vital role to play in perhaps the most closely fought election in modern history.

But is it really voter apathy........? Is it that British expat’s are no longer worried about what happens in the UK political system because it won’t impact them or instead does this lack of engagement stem from an overcomplicated process that just makes getting ones voice heard far too difficult? Currently expats can vote in two ways, either through a postal vote with its obvious problems of delivery and delays or by proxy where a UK resident votes on your behalf. Voting by proxy requires registration which again means deadlines and paperwork that can turn many potential expat voters off.

Yet what’s interesting is the fact that other countries don’t seem to suffer the same problem. For example, in the latest election 69% of overseas American’s cast their votes. With the election campaign finally drawing to a close, only time will tell what the impact of the expat vote will be.

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