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Why EU citizens were turned away from polling stations

Polling station
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Polling station
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Polling station

Government says it understands ‘frustration’ over admin errors but insists it is not responsible for voters’ issues

In Depth
Friday, May 24, 2019 - 11:22am

The Government could face legal action from EU citizens living in the UK after many complained that they were not able to vote in Thursday’s European Parliament elections.

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According to LBC, “hundreds if not thousands” of EU citizens who live in the UK were turned away from polling stations owing to a “variety of administrative errors”.

Dozens of voters spoke to news outlets about their “devastation” at “finding their names crossed off the register due to clerical errors by local councils”, The Guardian says. Experts described the situation as a “scandal we knew was coming”.

Many of those affected were eligible voters who had successfully registered to vote and had been living and voting in the UK for years.

#DeniedMyVote began trending on Twitter as it was “flooded with accounts of EU citizens being prevented from voting”, with some EU citizens claiming they were told to go and “vote in your own country”, The Independent reports.

Some EU citizens also complained that they had received their UC1 form, which allows them to vote in their country of residence, too late to register on time.

The Electoral Commission explained that the UK’s decision to delay Brexit from March until October - which in turn confirmed the country’s surprise participation in the EU elections - left authorities with “very short notice” to organise the vote.

A spokesperson for the commission said the rushed nature of the election “impacted on the time available for awareness of this process amongst citizens, and for citizens to complete the process”.

“EU citizens’ right to vote in the election in their home member state remains unaffected by the change in the UK’s participation; in order to do so, they would need to be registered in that country in accordance with that country’s process and timetable,” they added.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said ministers were “aware of the reports” but stressed that the Government was not to blame, claiming it “doesn’t have a role in the administration of the polls”.

“I do recognise that there is frustration,” the spokesperson added. “The running of polls is rightly a matter for independent returning officers. It is for them to put in place the necessary planning and contracts with suppliers to produce and deliver items like poll cards and postal votes.”

Anneli Howard, a barrister who specialises in EU law, told the Guardian that the denial of voting rights to these citizens amounted to a breach of multiple EU treaties, including article 20 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. “If EU citizens are being asked to fill out additional forms that UK nationals are not, that’s discrimination,” she said.

Howard added that article 20 had “direct effect”, meaning EU citizens could go straight to court over the matter and claim compensation.

The 3 million group, which campaigns for the rights of EU nationals in Britain, has demanded a full investigation into the incident.

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