Outdated law led to voting problems in EU elections – watchdog

Failure to implement reforms suggested four years ago left some voters disenfranchised

The government’s failure to reform outdated legislation caused some EU citizens in the UK and British citizens overseas to lose their vote in the European elections in May, the Electoral Commission has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.


Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Over-16s to get voting rights in some Welsh elections
Welsh government also plans to give local election votes to foreign nationals living in Wales

Steven Morris

28, Jan, 2018 @9:31 AM

Article image
European elections: UK government may face court action after EU citizens denied vote
People reportedly turned away from European election polling booths due to admin errors

Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent

24, May, 2019 @8:01 AM

Article image
UK should consider e-voting, elections watchdog urges
Electoral Commission calls for urgent reforms to engage younger voters who are turning out in declining numbers

Rowena Mason, political correspondent

26, Mar, 2014 @6:31 PM

Leader: Voting for voting
Elections on Sundays make sense.


30, Oct, 2002 @8:46 AM

Article image
About 750 people denied vote in ID trial at local elections
Official study says pilot went smoothly overall but Labour calls for scheme to be dropped

Peter Walker Political correspondent

22, Jul, 2019 @11:39 AM

Article image
Yes, these EU elections weren’t good enough. This is why | Bob Posner
The Electoral Commission warned politicians about this last-minute election, says Bob Posner, chief executive of the Electoral Commission

Bob Posner

24, May, 2019 @4:12 PM

Article image
Government faces judicial review over EU citizens denied vote
Lawyer representing group the3million says Europeans in the UK are ‘systematically disenfranchised’

Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent

12, Jul, 2019 @4:31 PM

Article image
European elections: UK regulator urged to count late postal votes
Complaints continue to pour in from angry EU citizens turned away from polling booths

Lisa O'Carroll and Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

24, May, 2019 @2:30 PM

Article image
England local elections going smoothly under new voter ID rules, say officials
‘No major issues’ reported so far, as most voters in Leicester say they were made well aware of change

Jessica Murray Midlands correspondent

04, May, 2023 @12:40 PM

Article image
Voter ID trial at local elections is a waste of time, say campaigners
ID required in 10 districts, but Labour and Electoral Reform Society say scheme should be dropped

Peter Walker Political correspondent

29, Apr, 2019 @11:01 PM