The number of expatriates that choose to vote is a hot topic, regularly discussed in communities all over the world. Some countries, such as France, have members of the legislature specifically representing non-residents and lines stretching for miles outside embassies when the time comes to elect them.
Others, such as British citizens living abroad, are more reticent. The UK’s Electoral Commision, which administers elections in Britain, sought to boost the numbers choosing to vote at the last European Parliament elections.
New information, however, suggests that they were less successful than hoped. The Electoral Commission's campaign to encourage expat voting was waged on a number of fronts.
Partnerships were set up with the Foreign Office, the overseas offices of political parties and groups such as Votes for Expat Brits. There was also a wide ranging PR and media campaign with advertisements placed on expat radio stations and television channels.
In addition, an Overseas Registration Day was run on 26 February 2014 to act as a hook for the wider media campaign. There was even a video message recorded by Greg Clark MP, Minister of State for Cities and Constitution, urging British expats to register to vote.
In spite of these efforts, the Electoral Commission did not meet their own targets for voter registration. Having initially planned on getting 25 000 voter registration forms downloaded in the run up to the European parliament elections, the actual number was just over 7000. This did though exceed the 5566 in 2009.
One possible caveat is that expat voters may have registered in their countries of residence.
The Commission stated in its report that, “despite not hitting our target for this element of campaign, we did receive a very positive reaction to our adverts, with over 87,000 clicks on our online advertising being recorded during the course of the campaign.
“It is possible that many of these individuals felt the process of downloading, printing - and then having another British passport holder countersign - the form was too onerous a task. The introduction of online registration will make this process a great deal more straightforward in future.”
In common with elections held in the UK, online voting was not possible. A spokeswoman for the Electoral Commission said, "Online voting will not be in place for the next general election, although for the first time, those based overseas who are eligible to vote will be able to register to do so online. This will make registering to vote much easier."
Expat & Offshore has previously lamented the poor electoral turnout in expat communities and has strongly argued for the extension of the franchise to include General Elections. Only with proper representation will the interests of expats be properly protected.