European elections: Britons abroad complain of missing ballot papers

The government is facing fresh questions over postal votes after multiple complaints from Britons overseas that they did not receive their ballot papers in time for the European elections.

On the eve of the poll, some voters reported they had not received their ballot paper at all, while others said they had only received their papers this week, making it virtually impossible for their vote to be registered in time by return post.

“My ballot paper arrives for the European elections today,” said Marc Lewandowski, a science teacher who lives in Melbourne, Australia, on Monday.

“[It] needs to be back in the UK in three days’ time to be counted. This is bullshit,” he said.

British voters across Europe have also complained of delays, with one voter discovering her ballot paper was routed through the Netherlands.

Ann Bone, who lives in France, received her postal vote from Calderdale council on Friday – two weeks after she was told it was posted – while her husband had yet to receive his ballot paper from Shropshire.

She questioned whether the council had used a third party for bulk mail after noting a franking sticker from PostNL placed over the Royal Mail postage mark, and the company name Adare SEC printed on the envelope.

“The bottom line is that British citizens abroad have been denied an extremely politically sensitive vote,” she said.

Another Briton said he considered this election so important that he considered flying back to the UK to vote.

“I’d very much like my vote to be counted, but I couldn’t justify the expense,” said James Watson, a translator who lives in the Netherlands.

The concerns were raised after campaigners for EU citizens living in the UK made an official complaint to the Electoral Commission saying their voting rights were being denied.

Simon Wilder, an art director who lives in Paris, said he received a polling card but not the ballot paper, while Tony Smith, a former soldier who was relying on a proxy vote, said nothing had yet arrived at his friend’s house in Gosport, Hampshire.

“After 40 years’ service to the crown I find myself unable to live in the country I served and now unable to vote,” said Smith.

He lives on a boat in the Mediterranean, unable to afford accommodation after a medical discharge from the army in 2016, and is angry he cannot vote.

Islington council apologised to Seb Emina, who lives in Paris, after he complained on several occasions that his ballot paper had not arrived.

It is understood the council used Royal Mail’s priority first-class service, with the majority of papers going out on 9 May and the remainder on 13 May, 10 days before the election.

The Electoral Commission says the anecdotal evidence of delays in the arrival of ballot papers reinforces the concerns it has raised in the past about postal votes.

Ballot papers are sent out by local authorities and the regulator has no authority to instruct them when to send out their paperwork.

When it did have the authority, in the 2016 EU referendum, it was able to stipulate that councils should prioritise overseas voters and get their ballot papers out first.

A spokesman said: “Our guidance is councils should prioritise and many do, but we don’t have any involvement on when the ballot papers are sent out. “We have said that that the government may want to look at this in the past.”

Several overseas voters who contacted the Guardian in response to a call-out, said they had received their ballot papers on time and reported no issues.

Calderdale council’s chief executive and local returning officer, Robin Tuddenham, has promised to investigate the delays. He said it had sent postal vote packs on 2 May to overseas voters and a number had already been returned.

“We have received three complaints from electors overseas, and these will be thoroughly investigated,” he said.

Islington council has been contacted for comment.

Adare SEC told the BBC all ballots were posted “in line with the election and council timetables” and that it had assessed “the best route through other European countries before the mail arrives at the final destination”.

A bill recommending changes to allow Britons who have lived overseas for more than 15 years to vote is going through parliament, with recommendations by the Electoral Commission to reform postal voting.

Last year the watchdog said the government should consider allowing voting at embassies and consulates or the ability to download and print postal ballot papers.

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