I’ve always been very keen on voting or participating in community-centred activities. I remember turning 18, getting my first ID and going to vote more or less around two weeks after my birthday… ’twas marvellous!
By sheer coincidence they actually happened to be EU elections. There I was, back in Kent – passport in hand – ready to change the world. It didn’t really matter much that the party I was about to vote for wasn’t going to get any MEPs. Or did it?
Since then, I’ve voted in every – local, general, euro elections or by-elections. Sometimes in the UK, other times in Poland. I even had a chance to vote in Germany and Spain once.
Fast forward to Belfast, last Thursday, 22 May 2014. I got up at 7 AM, attended to my morning ablutions ;P, had a quick bite and left my house in order to get to my local polling station and vote before going to work. I had everything I needed, or so I thought. Official polling card – check. Brand spanking new Electoral Identity Card – check. And most importantly my enthusiasm – check.
Upon entering the Church hall, temporarily converted into a polling station, I was greeted by a very friendly looking lady who asked me to present my ID and my polling card. She briefly looked for my name and when she was about to give me my ballot she noticed a letter G affixed to my name. She seemed a bit confused for a “wee” while, had a quick look around, noticed one of her colleagues and shouted: “Yeh know wha dat G stands for?” My smile was beginning to dissipate, with every passing second.
Because her colleague was unable to shed any light on the matter, she looked back at me and asked where I was from. I replied that I was Polish. She looked at me blankly, studied my face and said that because of my nationality I wasn’t allowed to vote in the EU elections. I have to admit I was speechless for a second or two, but having recovered, I quickly made her aware that I had voted in the past without any problems and I didn’t understand why I wasn’t allowed this year.
She didn’t offer me any more explanation, just said that I couldn’t.
Naturally, I asked to speak to someone else. Unfortunately, the man wasn’t of much help either. It all seemed a bit ad-hoc and not very well rehearsed, like a school production of Rent. He had a quick look in his paperwork and concluded that the letter G means – no-can-do. Sory Gregory.
Now, every EU citizen is allowed to vote in both local and EU elections, wherever he happens to reside, as long as they’re registered to vote, which I was. It doesn’t matter if you’re British, Irish, Romanian, Slovakian, French or Maltese. I happen to be British and Polish, which I decided to mention to the guy who was
trying to help me out. I even offered to produce my british passport should that be necessary, but was told it wouldn’t make any difference as I was registered for local elections only.
Yeah right! I refused to give in and asked to make a complaint.
I was quickly told to call an 0800 number, as they were not allowed to make any exceptions or resolve voting issues. I decided to do that, while staying in the polling station… Long story short, after 30 minutes and four different reasons as to why I couldn’t cast my vote, I was finally told that I should fill in a DC1 form. (EU voter registration document.)
I hung up and approached the person in charge and asked for the aforementioned form. He looked shocked, told me to wait and shuffled off with his phone. He was gone for about 10 minutes. I’m not usually a nervous person but having spent 45 minutes fighting about my right to vote and knowing that I was going to be late to work, the response that I got from the guy was the final straw. He told me that I should have filled the form back in April to declare that I definitely wouldn’t vote in any other EU country. Shouldn’t the lady, this guy and defo the EC operator know that, without an hour’s worth of detective work. I might have told him what I thought about it, very politely of course, I took my phone and bruised ego outside, where I tweeted all about it to my amigos, thinking it was all over.
Little did I know that many other people across the UK were having the exact same problems. Especially if they had an EU passport, doesn’t matter if they also had a British passport it seems. The EC assumed that 900,000 EU residents registered to vote in the UK will not be voting in EU elections where they reside, but rather will elect to vote in their member states.
Dobra, let me say that again. People were expected to vote in local elections in the UK then hop on a plane and cast their votes back in Naples. M to the O to the R to the O to the N to the I to the C.
As we can read in the Guardian in @sturdyalex article:
Petros Fassoulas, chair of European Movement UK, said: “It’s definitely not good to see so many EU citizens feel disenfranchised because they could not vote. EU citizens’ right to vote anywhere they live in the EU is a fundamental right and should not be compromised.”
The Electoral Commission … In a statement, it added: “It is clear that some EU citizens were unaware that they had to fill in the declaration form, and some have told us that they did not receive one from their electoral registration officer. We will be following this up in our post-election review and ensuring that electoral registration officers are aware that they must send this form.” The Guardian, A. Andreu and S. Malik
People had the right to vote in the UK, but on top of registering to vote in the UK in local/national elections, they also had to register to vote in the UK in EU elections. I may be wrong but that’s called – creating boundaries and needless bureaucracy.
On top of that, I was never informed that I had to re-register to vote in Belfast. Had I known that I would definitely have done that and would also let all my EU friends know all about it. I know of at least 100 people who were not allowed to vote, there’s bound to be more. Some did re-register but were still refused, some didn’t and were lucky enough to vote. I wasn’t. I strongly believe that this should be sorted.
Furthermore, I have no idea how to check how many people were not allowed to vote last Thursday but I would really like to know. Any ideas? Not only because I love democracy and voting, which I’ve done sin parar all my adult life, but also because my ballot and those of other EU citizens could have had an impact on what’s currently happening in Britain/Ireland and/or Europe. Nige, szczęściarzu.
(italics = All bits in italics are in other languages, they don’t normally bring much new info, only my spontaneous reactions)
Here are some links to a few articles: (I’ll add more later on)
Get involved – http://neweuropeans.net/article/297/european-commission-investigate-votedenied-complaints