The government’s failure to reform outdated legislation caused some EU citizens in the UK and British citizens overseas to lose their vote in the European elections in May, the Electoral Commission has concluded.
In a report on the election, the commission said it was “deeply regrettable” that the government had not acted on recommendations made four years ago.
“The May elections illustrate that delays in government action, which are needed to properly update our electoral laws, now pose significant risks to voter trust and confidence,” said Bob Posner, the chief executive of the commission.
“It is unacceptable that some EU citizens living in the UK and British citizens living abroad experienced difficulties that prevented them from voting at the European parliamentary elections.”.
The commission found that government delays in “taking forward established recommendations for electoral reform led to difficulties experienced by those who wanted to vote”.
It said voter confidence in the election was lower than in any other recent polls, denting the democratic contract with the public.
Research conducted by the commission found that confidence that the European elections were well run was more than 10 percentage points below that in the previous European elections in 2014.
Confidence in the running of local elections, which took place on the same day in some areas, was down 12 percentage points
Thousands of EU citizens on the voter register were turned away from polling booths in May because they had not been made aware they had to fill in a separate form declaring that they were exercising their vote in the UK.
Many others who were aware they needed to fill in the form said they were not able to complete it or did not receive the notification on time to be counted.
There were also multiple complaints from Britons in Europe who had the right to vote but did not receive their ballot papers in sufficient time to return them by polling day.
The government is now being challenged in the courts by campaigners for the rights of EU citizens.