The photo has been used for illustrative purposes.
Bella Frimpong, The Independent
I never thought “voter suppression” would be a phrase that I’d ever associate with British politics. Unfortunately, the events witnessed on European Election polling day, which left registered European citizens unable to vote, leave me struggling to find the adequate words to describe how much of a mess it was.
For context, there are about 3 million European Union citizens in the UK; many of whom had registered to vote in the UK ahead of the EU parliamentary elections, which took place on 23 May. In registering to vote in the UK, EU citizens like myself relinquished our right to vote in – what the Electoral Commission problematically deems as – our “home countries”.
On Thursday, many of us looked forward to finally being able to have a say in the decisions which impact our lives directly. After all, we were unable to vote in the 2016 EU referendum, despite being one of the biggest demographics that would be directly affected by its outcome.
We have watched with horror as our family and friends were castigated in the media, ignored by our political leaders and had our lives here threatened. Speaking to friends before the vote, you got a sense of how determined we were to have our voices heard.
What we did not expect however was the overwhelming occurrence of registered EU citizens being denied their civic right to vote. The surfacing of the #DeniedMyVote hashtag on Twitter since polling stations opened, reflect the numerous stories of EU citizens who were told they had not been registered to vote by their local electoral offices upon arriving to their local polling stations.
Whilst some of these cases were resolved on the day by councils checking CCTV for evidence that forms were handed in, in most cases there was nothing to be done once EU citizens were turned away, despite many having registered to vote and received their confirmation from civic offices.
For a nation that prides itself on democratic ideals, this is nothing short of a grave failure. The disenfranchisement of such a large demographic through administrative errors – however unintentional – is a product of a chaotic political environment, prompted by the government’s inability to get a handle on Brexit.
Despite being aware of the impending EU elections and the likelihood of the UK participating, the government insisted that we would not be involved in them until two weeks before the registration deadline. It’s even more outrageous that the Electoral Commission failed to divulge any information regarding EU citizens voting in the UK until just days before the deadline, and such efforts were left to campaign groups like the3million.
The events which occurred on Thursday could have been avoided if our government officials and offices were more truly dedicated to upholding the values of democracy, by ensuring that all citizens had equal access to engage in this exercise in sufficient time. This will leave an indelible stain on this government’s legacy and commitment to democracy. There have already been calls for legal action to be taken as a result of this injustice. If those who had a legal right to vote were actively (unintentional or not) denied the right to do so, this could even bring into question the validity of the election
Events like these do nothing to ameliorate the reputation of this government, whose track record has been marred by accusations of hostility towards immigrants. It is a shame that EU citizens, who contribute so much to our economy and society have once more been made to feel unwelcome at the hands of the government. EU citizens have made the UK our home; it is time we are treated as more than mere neighbours and strangers.
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