We had an "interesting" experience while going to vote this time (2014-05-22) at our local polling station in Bradford, West Yorkshire.
My wife (who is very much able to speak for herself but who doesn't blog or tweet) is German, but has lived and worked and been on the electoral roll in Bradford since 1985. She is not allowed to vote in UK national elections but, like all UK EU residents, is allowed to vote (and has always voted) in local and in European elections.
On this occasion, my daughter, my wife, and I turned up at our local polling station with the cards they send you through the post. My daughter and I were handed voting slips for the EU election and for the local election. My wife was handed only a voting slip for the local election and told that she couldn't vote in the EU election. Even when we protested - and pointed out that she was an EU citizen and therefore allowed to vote in EU elections - they stuck to their guns. "There's a 'G' against her name" they insisted. "Yes, that stands for 'German'. Germany is in the EU, and EU citizens are entitled to vote in European Elections." we patiently explained. "Yes but our rules say that 'Gs' aren't allowed to vote in EU elections" they responded; "We don't write the rules, we just have to follow them." they added helpfully.[*]
So my wife was denied the opportunity to select from a list of raving neo-Nazis and Poujadists about a foot long and a handful of (relatively) sensible contenders for the role of our MEP.
I suspect cock-up rather than conspiracy here but, nonetheless, Bradford Metropolitan District Council appear to be breaking the law and I do not intend to let the matter rest.#################
Having raised this matter on twitter, it seems that my wife is by no means the only EU citizen to have been refused an EU vote by their local authority. Part of the problem seems to be that EU citizens now (I'm not aware when this changed) have to complete additional paperwork to be granted a vote in EU elections. This obviously creates additional opportunities for local authorities to fail to supply the required paperwork or to lose it when they receive it back from the voter. Many people on twitter are reporting that they specifically filled in these additional forms - we filled in and returned (or competed online) everything that they sent us - but were still denied a vote.
Since the entitlement to vote is exactly the same for EU citizens voting in local or European elections, I am at a loss to imagine what purpose the creation of two parallel systems serves. I do not imagine that local authorities insist, for example, that their EU residents fill in extra forms before they become eligible for council tax. I expect that EU citizens fill in the same council tax forms as everyone else.
What makes this even worse, is that there is now no simple way for an EU voter to find out whether he or she is eligible to vote in a European election. In the past he/she could simply look up his/her name on the electoral register. Under the new regime, mere inclusion in the electoral register is no guarantee of eligibility to vote.
The only information I can find about the situation on the Bradford Metropolitan District Council site is:
Citizens of EU countries (other than the UK, Ireland, Cyprus, Malta) cannot vote in UK Parliamentary elections and must fill in a separate form to vote in European Parliamentary elections.
Where anyone can get hold of this "separate form" is not discussed further.
The twin-track system for registering EU voters clearly discriminates, in a systematic fashion, against a section of the electorate who are least likely to vote for xenophobic parties (who seem to be in the ascendancy at the moment) and thus may have a significant effect on the outcome of the current election - depending, of course, on the scale of this problem (which I have no way of knowing).
I find this totally unacceptable.
I rang the Electoral Services Unit of Bradford Metropolitan District Council this morning and was told (twice) that “she’d have to go and vote in Germany to vote in the EU elections”. When I (twice) pointed out that this is untrue I was told that "someone from the back office” would ring me back to discuss it further. I'm still waiting for the call.
Since our conversations at the vote, we have learned that "G" does not stand for "German" after all.
Every time we've been to vote for the past thirty years, they've taken my wife's polling card, ignored what it said on the front about who she could vote for, established her nationality - apparently (though seemingly not) from the code against her name, and declared that yes she was allowed to vote in the local or EU election but not in the national election - hence (and also because of the coincidence of "G" for "German" and the fact that they send us a sheet with our names on it every year and "German" against my wife's name) our mistaken assumption.
Since then we've discovered that a French friend is "K", and Julia Ruppel (@SpeakUpEu on twitter) has informed me that "G" simply means "not allowed to vote in EU elections".
What is to be done?
Since the vote, some online research and conversations, and since these articles appeared in the national press:
'Go and vote in your own country': Evidence of non-British EU citizens turned away at the polls despite being on electoral roll
And even a story about us in the Local Paper: Bradford teacher told: ‘Go to Germany if you want to vote’
..... I've become a lot clearer about what the real problems are here and how they need to be fixed. These problems fall into two categories:
1 The system is nuts
There is no rational purpose served by forcing EU citizens to register to vote twice with their local council. Everyone (including EU citizens) should receive one form on which they (if foreign) declare their nationality and on which they tick a box agreeing not to break the law and double-vote (pretending for the moment that this is a matter of any significance and a matter, even if it were of any significance, that could be solved by making people fill in a form).
Unfortunately, if is not within the gift of local authorities to change this system and, bonkers though it is, it probably won't get changed.
2 Local councils don't understand the nutty system and can't administer it
This aspect of the situation could be fixed more easily. Bradford in particular and local councils in general need to do the following as a matter of urgency:
- Educate their electoral services staff about the rules for elections
- Respond to enquiries when they have promised to do this
- Put up links to the "separate form" - this one I believe - on their websites with clear instructions as to what to do with the form and where to send it
- Ensure that they send out the "separate form" at the same time as the normal electoral roll form and in the same mailing - again with clear instructions as to what to do with the forms and where to send them and with a return envelope
- Ensure that their staff process the "separate form" at the same time as the normal electoral roll form when they receive it back from the voters
- Publish an augmented electoral roll that indicates whether those included have been granted their full voting rights or only some of them or some way of checking - preferably on-line - what one's voting status is (now that merely being on the roll is no longer a clear indication of this)