Lots of UK nationals who live overseas don’t know that they may be able to take part in the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. The referendum is due to take place by 31 December 2017, and with the date of the referendum as yet unknown we’re wasting no time in making sure that as many overseas UK nationals as possible know that they may be able to vote in the poll.
To register as an overseas elector you must have been registered to vote in the UK in the last 15 years. You will also need to know your National Insurance number and date of birth, and have your passport to hand if you have one. If you don’t have a National Insurance number you can still register, but you may have to supply more information to show who you are.
If you were too young when you left the UK to have been registered, then you can register as an overseas voter if your parents (or guardians) were registered in the UK in the last 15 years.
UK citizens overseas have traditionally proved particularly difficult to reach, as they are not exposed to the Electoral Commission’s UK-wide advertising campaign, they are geographically spread out and we don’t have detailed information about their exact locations or even their numbers. Estimates range from there being 3.5–5.5 million UK citizens living overseas.
Ahead of the 2015 UK Parliamentary General Election, we decided to harness the convening power of community hubs gained through partnerships in order to reach British citizens abroad. We also worked in partnership with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to reach embassies in key ex-pat locations, which would have regular contact with British citizens abroad.
By the time of the election there were almost 106,000 overseas electors on the register, three times the number that were on the register ahead of the last general election when almost 33,000 overseas electors were registered.
That campaign taught us a lot about what we want to do in order to reach voters living overseas for the referendum. For one thing we learnt that the sooner overseas voters get registered to vote, the more time they have to arrange for a method of absent voting. You can now register online to vote at www.gov.uk/register-to-vote – it takes less than five minutes and once that’s done you can choose to vote via one of three methods. You can vote either by post; by proxy (you designate someone you trust to vote on your behalf in the UK); or in person at a polling station in your constituency, but of course if you live overseas you’re unlikely to be able to able to do this. It should be easier to vote by post for this referendum as the timetable for postal votes has been extended to allow postal votes to be sent out even earlier than usual, giving you a bit more time to receive, complete, and return your ballot pack to the UK.
Our first Overseas Voter Registration Day (OVRD), in 2015, also taught us that there is an appetite for organisations working or in contact with British expats to encourage this group to register to vote. OVRD was a Commission-led day of activity supported by expat community hubs, overseas branches of UK political parties and embassies and consulates from around the world. We’re hoping to repeat the success of OVRD on 4 February 2016, so please let us know if you’re interested in getting involved. The EU Referendum is going to be a significant event and we know lots of British expats will want to make their voices heard, so it’s important that we work together with partners to let them know how to register and cast their vote.