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Absent Voting: Overseas Residence

Volume 475: debated on Monday 28 April 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice how many postal ballot papers were issued to UK citizens residing overseas during the last (a) local elections in England and (b) general election. (201146)

Locally appointed returning officers are responsible for the conduct of elections and are responsible for storing and collecting any data arising from these elections. As such we do not collect or hold data centrally on the number of postal ballot papers which were issued to UK citizens residing overseas during the last local and general elections.

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice how many postal ballot papers issued to UK citizens residing overseas in the last (a) local elections in England and (b) general election were (i) returned and (ii) rejected by acting returning officers for reasons of lateness. (201147)

Locally appointed returning officers are responsible for the conduct of elections arid are responsible for collecting and storing any data arising from these elections. As such, we do not collect or hold data centrally on either the number of ballot papers which were returned by UK citizens living abroad at the last local and general elections or the number of postal ballots from UK citizens overseas voters which were rejected by acting returning officers for reasons of lateness.

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what period of time was provided for postal ballot papers to be (a) issued and (b) delivered to the address of UK citizens residing overseas during the last (i) local elections in England and (ii) general elections. (201148)

There was no prescribed last date for the issue or delivery of postal votes to UK citizens residing overseas prior to either the last local or general elections in England. Postal ballot papers may be printed and prepared for delivery once the identity of the candidates is known, following the close of the period for nominations. The earliest date that postal votes will be issued and delivered at local and general elections in England to existing postal voters is 11 working days before polling day, which is the last date in which they can cancel or vary their arrangements. Postal ballots can be dispatched to new postal vote applicants as soon as practicable after their applications have been granted.

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what assessment he has made of the adequacy of the period of time given for UK citizens residing abroad to (a) receive and (b) return completed postal ballot papers during the last (i) local elections in England and (ii) general election; and if he will make a statement. (201149)

While no formal assessment has been made we are aware that some UK citizens residing abroad have experienced difficulties with the current period of time given for receiving and returning their completed postal ballot papers for elections in England.

Returning officers are aware of the need to put the Electoral Commission's guidance on issuing postal votes into effect. The guidance (i) stipulates that postal votes should be issued to all who have applied, including long-term postal voters as soon as practicable after the deadline for new applications for postal votes which is 11 working days before the election and (ii) communicates that consideration may also be given to prioritising the issuing of ballot papers that are going outside the UK.

We have and will continue to look at ways in which we can improve the voting process for UK citizens residing abroad. To date our work has included implementing provisions under the Representation of the People Act 2000 to allow overseas voters to vote by post. Previously, such voters were only able to appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf.

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice if he will increase the period of time given to UK citizens residing abroad to (a) receive and (b) return completed postal ballot papers during (i) local elections in England and (ii) general elections; and if he will make a statement. (201150)

There are practical issues including uncertainty in the declaration of the results and outcomes of elections should any change be made to the timing of the postal ballots to overseas voters. Any change would also need to take into account the need to ensure that candidates continue to have reasonable time to put forward their nominations.

Returning officers are aware of the need to put the Electoral Commission's guidance on issuing postal votes into effect. The guidance (i) stipulates that postal votes should be issued to all who have applied, including long-term postal voters as soon as practicable after the deadline for new applications for postal votes which is 11 working days before the election and (ii) communicates that consideration may also be given to prioritising the issuing of ballot papers that are going outside the UK.