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At polling stations across the country yesterday, European Union citizens living in the United Kingdom were turned away and denied a vote.
Polling clerks unexpectedly informed EU citizens that they had not completed the sufficient paperwork to exercise their right to vote. The issue has caused outrage and upset to many who have been left feeling disenfranchised and unable to make their voice heard over Brexit and other issues. Many have taken to social media to voice their outrage at yesterday's events. Nouse spoke to two EU citizens living in York about their experiences.
David Huyssen is a University of York lecturer in the Department of History. He is originally from Germany and registered to vote through a UK government website more than a month in advance of election day. He received a form asking him which country he would like to vote in and he chose the UK. He did receive email confirmation of his registration but he did not receive physical confirmation by post.
"I received written confirmation of my registration from a UK electoral authority via email." he said. "Having received no physical confirmation in the mail, I called the York Council earlier this week to verify that I would be able to vote. I received verbal assurances from a Council employee. At no time before election day did any UK or York Council authority indicate to me in writing or otherwise that there might be additional forms for me to complete, despite multiple exchanges of information and opportunities for clarification."
Despite the verbal assurances given to him by the City of York Council, David was denied the right to cast his vote at the polling station. "Only when I attended the polls this morning was I informed that I could not vote." It was only at this point that he was informed that he had needed to complete an additional form in order to exercise his right as a European citizen to vote in the European elections.
David is fiercely critical of the system which led to his disenfranchisement. "A voter registration system that allows weeks to pass without informing registered voters of the full requirements for voting--and then denies their votes on election day is, quite simply, not fit for purpose. This should be a national scandal." Describing how the ordeal made him feel, he said it was "both infuriating and humiliating."
Elina Kukk is a student at the University of York. An active member of the campus community, she recently served as YUSU's RAG Officer. She, too, was denied the vote in yesterday's election after completing the registration process online. When she didn't receive a polling card, she called the Council to confirm which polling station to use. Despite her registration, she was told she was not able to vote.
"I asked why not, and they said they never received my form. I said when I registered online it said that was all I had to do. She said again about the form and I said that was some really terrible communication on the website." Elina has also told us how she found the service provided by the Council to be woefully inadequate and callous towards the issue.
"I asked if there was anything else she could do, and she said no. I said okay, thanks. No apology. No sympathy, even. Just a slight sneer when I said I didn’t vote in the local elections. As if that meant I shouldn’t have gotten to vote in these ones!" She has felt completely let down by the Council and that this stress came at a terrible time during exam season. "I was going revise for Tuesday’s exam today. I spent most of the day trying to work out what’s going on, hoping for a solution before polls closed."
In response to the criticism, the City of York Council told Nouse: “Electoral Registration Staff and everyone involved in the election process have been working hard to make sure that everyone who is eligible can vote in both the local elections and yesterday’s EU parliamentary elections. EU citizens have been required to fill in a registration form every time there has been a European Parliamentary Election in the last 20 years or so, to declare that they wish to vote in the UK rather than as an overseas elector in their home member state.
“Whilst there isn’t a requirement for either the Electoral Registration Officer (or even the council) to send this form proactively, we sent it to every EU citizen we have on record from 15 April. We sent a second batch to those that registered after that date, but before the deadline, so as many people as possible were informed and could complete this form. Of the forms we sent, around a third were returned before the deadline on 7 May.
“We are disappointed that some EU citizens were unable to vote yesterday (23 May). Each polling station was given a list of EU citizens who were registered to vote in their area and yesterday we contacted all Presiding Officers to remind them of the guidance for determining voter eligibility and asked them to contact our elections team before turning any potential voters away. In doing this we managed to resolve a few of the questions so people could vote.
“As with every election we will review how it went and work with the electoral commission and government to make it as easy for people to vote as possible.”
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