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The Right to Vote in Elections

The right to vote and participate in government is granted to all free residents in the UK once they reach 18 years of age.

Who has the right to vote?

The right to vote in the UK is not limited purely to British citizens and those living in the country at the time of the election. Voting is also open to:

  • UK nationals living abroad, who registered to vote at some point in the last fifteen years
  • UK nationals who left the country within the last fifteen years, but were too young to vote when they left
  • Irish and Commonwealth citizens currently residing in the UK
  • members of the British Armed Forces serving outside the country.

Those living outside the country will generally need to register for the last area in which they registered to vote. Naturally, someone living or working abroad won’t be able to vote at a local polling station, but they can vote by either by sending their vote through the post, or by proxy – nominating someone else they trust, such as a close family member, to cast their vote for them.

EU nationals

EU nationals cannot vote in UK general elections, but they are eligible to vote in certain other elections within the UK if they reside here, such as local council elections and European parliament elections.

However, EU nationals do have the right to stand for local elections, provided that they have lived and worked in the area local to the relevant authority for the entirety of the twelve months leading up to their nomination. They must also be registered to vote in the area of that local authority.

Members of the armed forces

A member of the armed forces must register to become a service voter. Armed service members must renew their service declaration every three years if they wish to remain registered to vote. Spouses and civil partners of armed service members can also register as service voters.

If you are homeless/have no fixed address

You are still entitled to vote if you are homeless – however, you will need to make a declaration of local connection, which will specify which constituency you will vote in. This could be an address at which or close to where you spend a lot of time.

Making a declaration of local connection

You will need to make a declaration of local connection if you wish to vote and one of the following applies to you:

  • you are homeless
  • you are in prison on remand
  • you are a patient in a psychiatric hospital (please note: those detained in a psychiatric hospital as a result of criminal activity cannot vote)

You will need to make the declaration to the council for the area where you want to vote – you can find contact details for the local council using the government’s  online directory of local authorities.

You will need to contact the electoral registration officer for the council (or the City of London if you are registering for London). The council may provide you with a form to do this, or you can make the declaration on your own.

The declaration must include the following information:

  • your name and confirmation that you meet nationality requirement and are over 18 years old
  • which of the categories you fall in to (homeless, on remand, or a patient in a psychiatric hospital)
  • the date of the declaration (the declaration must be submitted within three months of this date)

an address for them to send any responses or correspondence to you; if you don’t have an address for this, you will need to specify that you will come to pick it up from the electoral registration officeThe declaration will last for twelve months, unless you cancel it or submit another one – if you submit another, it will overwrite the previous one.

Voting rights for prisoners and those on remand

Convicted prisoners have been banned from voting for over 100 years under the 1870 Forfeiture Act. However, the restriction on prisoners from voting has been a major point of contention in recent years.

The UK’s prevention of prisoners from voting is one of the few areas in which UK human rights law does not match the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that all may vote once they reach voting age, regardless of their criminal status. The European Court of Human Rights has put pressure on the UK to fall in line with the rest of Europe on prisoners’ voting rights since 2005.

Note that the UK’s restriction on prisoners only applies to those who those convicted – someone in prison on remand should still be entitled to vote. However, if you want to vote while on remand, you will need to make a declaration of local connection. You can make this declaration for the area you live or lived at outside prison, or the area your prison is located in.

Once a convicted criminal is released from prison, he or she is free to vote again.

Voter privacy

Human rights law affords every voter the right to not only keep their political allegiances and vote a secret, but also to ensure that a voter should not feel undue pressure from a political party or candidate to vote in a certain way.

There are limitations on how a party or candidate can contact voters to spread their word and encourage voters to support them. For example, no political party or candidate can contact you via email or SMS text message, unless you have agreed to it.

Political parties and candidates can send you direct marketing material (addressed to you) via the post, although you can opt out of most postal communication by requesting that they no longer send any. They can also contact you via phone, although if you are registered with the Telephone Preference Service, which allows you to opt out of cold-calling, they should not contact you.

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