I’m British: So why is it so damned hard to vote in UK elections?


Ever since I turned 18, I have always voted in British elections.  This year, though, it’s proving much harder to cast my vote.

As I am currently living in Denmark I am classed as an Overseas Elector, along with millions of other British expats around the world. Back in January I decided to heed the advice from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and apply online to register. It was pretty straight forward.


Letter from my local council in London

A few weeks later I received a letter from my borough council in London telling me that I had been successful. The electoral services department included a postal vote application – which is by far the easiest way in which to exercise my right. However, it came with this advice:

“Although ballot papers can be sent abroad by post, they are only posted out about a week to ten days before an election. You are strongly advised to appoint a proxy.”

A proxy? Someone I trust enough to put the ‘X’ next to the name/party to whom I’m giving my vote? Am I the only British citizen who finds this deeply uncomfortable? Where’s the ‘secret ballot’ in all this? Given the numerous investigations into postal election fraud in the UK, why is it considered ‘democratic’ to ask someone else to vote on my behalf?

I was hoping my parents would help me. But it turns out they’re out of the country on election day. So now I have to think of someone else who will exercise MY right on Thursday 7th May.

When I do convince someone to help, they then have the whole issue of how to cast MY vote. Either they do it in person in my South London constituency, or they can receive my ballot papers by post. If they choose the latter, there’s an application form he/she will have to fill in – one that I have to send them first, from Denmark.

The whole system seems crazy. With all this technology at our finger tips, why is it so damned hard to vote? Surely it’s time the Electoral Commission and the British political system in general moved into the 21st century.

  1. Appreciate your frustration, but on this one I think the cautious approach to a technological solution is the right one even if there is a bit/lot of technophobia at work here. The people who would have to make the decision to adopt an electronic system aren’t necessarily confident when it comes to IT.


    Get this wrong and it would blight electronic voting for a long time.


    Digital natives are always going to want to go ahead rapidly, and although the current system effectively disenfranchises you personally – unless you take a flight back just to vote 🙂 – as long as turnout remains reasonable no political incentive for fixing something that (as far as the majority are concerned) ain’t broke.

    I wouldn’t hold your breath on being able to vote electronically from DK in a UK election any time soon.

    • Thanks for your comments David. I see your point but I think it’s just wrong that it’s this difficult. Why not send out postal votes earlier if people live abroad. It’s just such a ‘computer says no’ attitude in the British political system. Time for change!

      • Why not send postal votes out earlier is a fair question.

        But before this election dates weren’t fixed, so returning officers couldn’t know in advance when to send them. If they prepared in advance and then the date changed you’d get the Taxpayers’ Alliance complaining about wasting public money (or maybe not as many of them seem to be non-doms.)

        I’m a bit of a traditionalist and can’t see why to start with people who have left the country a long time ago *should* keep the right to vote. Maybe, my views will change now I’m an ex-pat, but as it’s been a long time since my vote mattered much, I wonder.

        PS studied politics at Masters level and lived with a Westminster civil servant so had the joys of discussing the complications. Recognise that more and more people are going to be affected over time. Can understand both why ex-pats feel disenfranchised and why there is no political capital in dealing with the issue as a matter of urgency.

  2. Same concerns here in Switzerland – I registered via the Overseas Voter site and received confirmation from our last UK place of residence (Glasgow South constituency – a blog in itself!), but didn’t fancy the proxy option so will be at the mercy of UK and Swiss postal systems

  3. The fact is that the two ‘old’ parties only want those, who are especially committed, to vote. So they’re more than happy with a low turnout of predictable punters. Hence their abject fear of any type of electoral reform.
    If you don’t trust anyone to vote your way, why not ask the organisers of your choice of party in your constituency and give someone there your proxy? They’re highly unlikely to vote another way!
    As you say, makes a mockery of a secret ballot, but if you were a party member or an activist, you would have given that away anyway.

  4. Whilst probably true this is such a depressing set of comments. I hate the idea that we feel essentially powerless to sort out.a system that would deliver an electronic vote for all and a much higher turnout. we can submit our tax returns online with sufficient security surely it would be possible to vote securely too. Hell, why not vote on your tax return if that is the only way. This really makes me want to go in and sort out this apathy and indecision 🙂

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