Overseas voters - Commons Library Standard Note

Published 11 November 2014 | Standard notes SN05923

Amended 09 December 2014

Authors: Isobel White, Richard Cracknell, Alexander Horne

Topic: Elections, Electoral franchise, General elections

British citizens living overseas are entitled to be registered to vote in UK Parliamentary elections for up to 15 years in the constituency they were registered in before leaving the UK. They are not entitled to vote in UK local elections or elections to the devolved assemblies.

There have been calls for the 15 year rule to be changed, most recently during the passage of the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 but the Government has indicated that it has no plans to alter the arrangements for overseas voters at the moment.

Harry Shindler, a British citizen who has lived in Italy since 1982, and who has therefore not been able to vote in UK Parliamentary elections since 1997, took his case to the European Court of Human Rights in 2009 and argued that no time limit should be imposed on the right of British citizens living overseas to vote in the UK. In its judgment on 7 May 2013, the European Court ruled that there had been no violation of Article 3 of Protocol No 1 (right to free elections) of the European Convention on Human Rights and determined that the UK had legitimately confined the parliamentary franchise to those citizens who had ‘a close connection to the UK and who would therefore be most directly affected by its laws.’

This Note provides background to the provisions relating to overseas voters in the Representation of the People Act 1985 which was subsequently amended by the Representation of the People Act 1989 and the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. Information is also given about the procedure for registering to vote as an overseas elector and the means of voting, either by post or by proxy.

There are different arrangements for the armed forces and these are covered in Library Standard Note SN/PC/4276, Armed forces voting.

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