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Brexit: British expats considering lawsuit over missing postal votes after hundreds denied say in EU referendum

The Independent logo The Independent 08/07/2016 Lizzie Dearden
A postal vote ballot paper for the EU Referendum © Rex A postal vote ballot paper for the EU Referendum

The Electoral Commission has said it “appreciates the frustration” of hundreds or possibly thousands of expats who were unable to have their say on the UK’s membership of the European Union because of missing postal votes.

Infuriated voters have reported more than 500 cases to The Independent where they registered but did not receive their papers in time for the historic referendum.

Those affected live in dozens of countries across the globe, including Thailand, Australia, the US and across the channel in France.

Some voters, many of whom said they backed Remain, have called for a re-run of the referendum over the “farce”.

One man is investigating the possibility of a class action lawsuit with a London solicitors’ firm over the “denial of a fundamental right”.

Spencer Wain, who lives in Brussels, said: “If there were literally thousands who like me were disenfranchised – with the right denied only to prisoners and sectioned mental health cases - then we need to get a class action against the local councils, the electoral commission, and ultimately HM Government.”

Hundreds of people have sent proof of their registration to The Independent, with the vast majority within the deadline set by the Government.

But there were reports of some embassies publishing the wrong date, voting packs sent abroad with insufficient postage, administrative delays and mistakes including incorrect addresses and even countries.

In one blunder, one man found out his postal vote had been accidentally sent to an address in Australia, rather than his home in Austria.

In another case, Chris Lennon received a letter from Glasgow City Council dated from 13 June but with a postmark showing it was not dispatched to his address in Amsterdam until 30 June – a week after the referendum.

Chris Lennon's letter was dated 13 June but not posted until 30 June Chris Lennon's letter was dated 13 June but not posted until 30 June

There is no central office where votes for expats are dispatched, with the duty falling to local authorities, and while some councils admitted delays, others blamed postal services abroad.

Matthew Trigg, who lives in Sydney but is registered to vote in Wandsworth, London, condemned the system as “archaic”.

“The Electoral Commission should be given full control of the electoral role and the handling of ballots, and be given access to the extensive network of foreign missions so voters who are overseas have the option to vote in person,” he said.

And the issue is not confined to expats – several British residents have also contacted The Independent saying their postal votes failed to arrive even when sent between addresses in the UK.

The Electoral Commission said it could not provide a figure for the number of lost or delayed postal votes and those affected, but that 52 queries had been received on the matter.

A law currently being considered in Parliament could change the process for future elections.

The Overseas Voters Bill commits to the introduction of internet voting for Brits living overseas, although there are serious concerns over fraud and the bill’s provisions have not been finalised.

A spokesperson for the Electoral Commission said expats had been “encouraged” to register by 16 May to allow time for postage, or alternatively register for a proxy vote instead.

“We appreciate the frustration that any overseas voters who could not cast their vote for the EU Referendum will have felt,” she added.

“From the 16 May, we advised overseas electors to consider applying for a proxy vote rather than a postal vote, if they were concerned that they would not receive their postal ballot pack in time.

“With regard to the overall conduct of the referendum, the Commission will be producing a statutory report covering issues including those affecting overseas voters later this year."


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