The December election Part 1: the nuts and bolts of registration and voting for Brits in France

You don't need us to tell you that the election on 12 December really is the Big One: our future rights, as British citizens who've exercised our free movement rights to live in France, depend on its outcome. It doesn't come more critical than that. So in the two articles in this series we've gathered together everything that you need to know about whether you can vote, how to vote, and how to decide who to vote for.

In this first article we cover the practicals to do with voting - how to register, how to vote, how to become involved even if you can't vote and so on. A second article will look at what the different outcomes of the election could mean for our future rights and how best to use that information to make an informed choice about who to vote for in your constituency.

Can I vote?

As a UK citizen resident abroad, you can register online to vote in UK parliamentary elections if you meet all three of these conditions:

  • you are 18 years of age or over;
  • you left the UK less than 15 years ago; and
  • you were on the electoral register when you lived in the UK, or if you were under 18 when you left the UK, if your parent/s or guardian/s were on the electoral register.

When does the 15 year period start from?

The 15 year period starts from the date when you no longer appeared on the electoral list as a resident in the UK - this may not always tie in exactly with when you left the UK. If you are not sure what date that was, you'll need to contact the Electoral Registration Office in the constituency in which you were last registered (search for the Electoral Registration Office contact info here).

Can I choose which constituency I register in?

No. You must continue to be registered in the last constituency you were registered in while resident in the UK - there is no discretion to change constituencies. 

Renew, renew, renew

As an overseas voter, your registration lasts for one year dating from the date of original registration and you have to renew your registration every year if you want to remain on the register. Most Electoral Registration Offices will send out renewal reminders 2 – 3 months before expiry of registration and an additional reminder if there is no response during that period, though this can get overlooked - but if you don't respond you will be removed from the register at your renewal date, which means starting the registration process again from scratch. Many people have been caught out by this in previous elections - don't be one of them!

Am I already registered to vote?

You'll need to contact your Electoral Registration Office to check whether you're already registered if you're not sure. There is no online process for doing this. You can find your Electoral Registration Office contact info here.

How do I register?

You can register to vote here: You'll need:
  1. your date of birth;
  2. your National Insurance number; and
  3. your UK passport details.
The registration deadline for the December election is midnight on 26 November 2019 (17h00 if you want to vote by post - see below).

What about people who left the UK before they were 18?

If you're a British citizen and were too young to register when you left the UK, but you're now 18 or over, you can still register to vote. You can do this with the UK local council or authority where your parent or guardian was last registered to vote as long as you left the UK less than 15 years ago.  This is the case even if you were born overseas but later lived in the UK as a child. To find out where to submit your application to vote, enter your parent or guardian’s old postcode here.

How do I actually vote from overseas?

You can choose how you want to vote. You can vote

  • by proxy (by choosing someone else to vote on your behalf);
  • by post; or
  • in person, at your designated polling station.

Voting by proxy

We strongly recommend that you vote by proxy to make sure that your vote is counted in the upcoming election. Voting by post is risky and timing is tight - postal voting papers can't be created until after candidate lists close at midnight on 26 November; they've then got to be printed, sent out, and then sent back by you in one of the busiest posting periods of the year. 

Many electoral officers have already recommended that overseas voters set up a proxy - see this recent article in the Guardian.

Voting by proxy does mean losing the privacy of your vote and having to trust your proxy to vote according to your wishes - but it's still a safer means of ensuring you have a say than relying on a postal vote.

To apply for a proxy vote you have to complete a form and send it to your Electoral Registration Office. It's worth asking whether they will accept a signed and scanned copy - most do. You can find the relevant form for overseas voters here.

How to vote by proxy?

There are 2 ways of voting by proxy.

Proxy in person
You know someone in or near your constituency who you trust and would be willing to vote on your behalf. Be aware that your proxy voter would have to vote at your designated polling station and not elsewhere in the constituency (though they can vote by post - see below). 

Alternatively, you could contact the local headquarters of the party you intend to vote for and request a proxy. Many local party headquarters are more than happy to do this - and it's a sure fire way of ensuring that your proxy does actually vote as you wish!

Your application for a proxy vote must arrive by 17h00 on 4 December 2019 for the December election (but see the earlier deadline below for a 'proxy by post').

Proxy by post
If you don't know anyone in your own constituency, you can ask a trusted person living elsewhere in the UK to be your 'proxy by post'. They can then apply for a postal proxy vote: this must be done at least 11 working days before election day, by 17h00 on 26 November 2019 for the December election. The postal proxy vote must then be sent to the constituency where the overseas elector is registered, not the proxy’s constituency.

Who can be my proxy?

Someone can be your proxy if they are:
  • 18 or over;
  • registered to vote; 
  • able to get to your polling station on polling day or willing to vote by post on your behalf; and
  • eligible to vote in the election.
Your proxy does not have to be related to you. However, they can only be a proxy for close relatives and a total of two other people at the same election.

Voting by post

If you want to vote by post, you need to apply by 17h00 on 26 November 2019 by completing this form and returning it to your Electoral Registration Office. Again, It's worth asking whether they will accept a signed and scanned copy - most do.

Remember that postal voting papers can't be set up until after candidate lists close at midnight on 26 November; they've then got to be printed, sent out, and then sent back by you in one of the busiest posting periods of the year. In previous elections large numbers of British citizens living abroad failed to receive their forms in time to return them, so this is a risky form of voting - and will be especially so in December.

Once you're registered you'll receive your postal voting pack which will contain two envelopes - an inner envelope into which you put your voting paper, and an international reply paid envelope into which you put the inner envelope. In previous elections there has been some confusion about whether stamps need to be attached to the international reply paid envelope. The Electoral
Commission made a statement about this for the referendum, and this stands today: 

Electoral Commission statement 7 June 2016  
“Postal votes being returned by overseas voters [for the EU Referendum] use the International Business Reply Service (IBRS). This service is commonly used for international mail and does not require any additional postage to be affixed. We are aware that a very small number of voters may have been incorrectly informed that the postal service in a handful of locations in Europe cannot accept IBRS items.
Royal Mail has confirmed that IBRS is accepted across all international posts. It is working closely with postal operators to ensure acceptance of postal votes. Voters are advised that once a ballot is in the postal system (i.e. if it has been posted into a post box) it will be processed”

Why should I bother to vote?

British citizens living in the EU have never been so impacted by the decisions and policies of the UK government - our future rights here in France depend quite literally on the results of this election. So voting is a no brainer.

Not only that, but a majority of British people living abroad (around 60%) are not eligible to vote because they have been out of the UK for over 15 years. Maybe you're one of them. That makes it all the more important that those who can vote, do vote - you're voting not just for yourself, but for all those who are disenfranchised.

Since the December election was called on 29 October, 34,000 British citizens living overseas have registered to vote. But many - up to 1 in 10 - still remain unregistered, whether by accident or design. If you know anyone living abroad who is able to vote, please ask them to check whether they are registered and if not, pass this page onto them so that they know what to do.

We can make a difference - but only if we all act.

What if I can't vote?

If you've lived outside the UK for over 15 years, you're currently not able to vote in the UK - you're disenfranchised.

Most European states allow their emigrants to vote in national elections no matter how long they have been living outside the country. France even has special constituencies for its overseas voters, represented by dedicated députés. Prior to 1985, British citizens living overseas didn't have the right to vote in UK elections at all. The Representation of the People Act 1985 enabled overseas citizens to vote in the constituency where they had previously lived, but only for a period of 5 years. That was extended to 20 years in 1989 but reduced to 15 years in 2000, where it remains today.

British in Europe has fought a long campaign to secure 'Votes for Life' for all British citizens living overseas - some 3 million people - and we continue to fight. We've recently joined up with Another Europe is Possible and the3million to launch a dedicated website called Let Us Vote. You can find it here - please support us.

Maybe you can't vote ... but you can still make a difference 

How? You can
  • help other British citizens living in the EU to see why it's so important to register and vote. If you get just one other person to vote who wouldn't have done so without your support, then you have made a difference;
  • get your family and friends to raise the main issues facing British citizens living in the EU after Brexit with candidates (we'll be posting issues for friends and family to raise on our website and social media shortly);
  • if you have elderly parents in the UK who may one day be looking to you for care, ask them to tell candidates about how difficult that could be (read this article to remind yourself);
  • talk to your family and friends about how to vote effectively (see Part 2 of this article);
  • if you have children studying in the UK (or you know others who do), remember that they can vote in the election if they have an NI number; 
  • ask your friends and family in the UK whether they would be willing to act as proxy voters for Brits living in France who are registered to the same constituency, or who would be willing to be 'proxies by post' (obviously only do this if they're pro-EU!) - next week the France Rights Facebook page will be creating a 'Find a Proxy' post for offers and requests.

Part 2

In the second article in this series of two, we look at In this second article we look at what the different outcomes of the election could mean for our future rights and how best to use that information to make an informed choice about who to vote for in your constituency.


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