Handwriting stopped me from voting.
Rage. I've woken up with it for the past five days. As an Englishman living abroad, I am unable to vote in 2015 due to an ‘L’ being mistaken as a ‘C’ on my postal application. That may sound trivial, ridiculous even. Well it is.
My paper application form for the 2015 General Election was signed, sealed and delivered in February 2015, and I was notified that it had been placed on the register and my postal application was “in the system.”
Swell, I thought. Enough time to make some decisions about my future and understand why the people of Norwich North, Bury North and Warwickshire North all dictate my future plans. Just like Game of Thrones.
In 2010, almost 7 million postal votes were issued -15.3% of the entire electorate. 83.2% returned it. — The Electoral Commission
My argument centres around why I had to fill in the application form and send it by post in the first place. The dull form, which only asks for your address and election preference, had to be downloaded, taken to an internet cafe (I don’t own a printer), printed, filled in, and sent. The process, I was later told by email, takes a week, as I live in Dublin. Not exactly a glitch in the Matrix where postal workers won’t visit.
Car hire, shopping for lemons, paying your bills, ordering guns, managing your private finances, and politely letting me know my application has been received, can all be done online, so why can I not also fill the application form in online? It’s possible to change your driving licence address and your PAYE details on the web, but not your voting location. That has to be done by post.
These days, I input my address into web forms on such a regular basis that Chrome auto-fills the details.
So why can’t all government application forms be digital?
A recent report by campaign group WebRoots Democracy found that online voting could boost turnout in a UK general election by nine million. Staggering, considering the threat of another hung parliament.
Also, nearly 5 million British expats are now living and working abroad, with many looking at the UK’s general election with keen interest for the livelihoods of their residing families. All the more reason for postal application forms to be done quickly and to aim for higher voter turnout numbers. Ergo, easier, faster, 21st Century application forms.
So it seems that for the next five years, our government will be stoically rigid on postal paper applications despite their best efforts to inform us of their newest quango — the Government Digital Service (GDS).
Surely one of the most important parts of government is identifying and helping large groups of expat/swinging/non-voters to vote.
It may be the first social media election, but it certainly isn't a digital one.
So, by March 28, almost two weeks after I was politefully emailed by my constituency’s elections officer to say they had received my postal vote application, I sent an email in reply to ask for an update on my polling card. After all, I was told that delivery would take no longer than a week.
Two days later, I received a response from said elections officer, reiterating that my postal application had been received, entered into the system, and that a ballot card had been sent to my Dublin address. She apologized for the late confirmation as she was inundated with requests — understandable, really, with all the unnecessary paper work in the form of postal applications that could easily be rectified with an online form.
A further 14 emails and four phone calls, spanning from March-May, my ballot card was no where to be seen. Instead of immediately sending out a new card, I was further asked the following questions, repeatedly:
- Are you an overseas voter?
- Will you be voting in all the elections from abroad?(That was on the form).
- Did you send the forms on time?
- Do you want to re-apply for a postal vote? (April 12)
- Do you need a proxy person?
The offices were also shut on the weekend before the election, so I was unable to speak to anyone.
My partner was also not able to postal vote at a different constituency office due to miscommunicaion. Another vote lost.
A response on Sunday, four days before voting day, highlighted both my poor handwriting, and why I never received any postal vote. At this stage I hadn't even had a sniff at an election candidate form. It had been three months.
Unfortunately we read the ‘L’ as the ‘C’. However, I would hope that there is sufficient detail in the address to reach you.
As I live within an estate, I never put the road on my address. But because this was a general election, I figured putting the whole yoke down. If not received two months ago, they should have had it returned. No dice.
A later email said they would send another form out, but because it was a bank holiday, it may not reach me in time — plus I would need to complete it and send it back by 10pm Thursday. It’s Thursday, May 7, and I still haven’t received anything. It must be a glitch in the Matrix.
Somewhere, out there in limbo, is Britain’s paper-form, democratic and bureaucratic, voting procedure. My voting right will forever and endlessly circle either the North West Midlands Mail Centre, London’s Mount Pleasant or Truro sorting offices like a lost piece of luggage.
Whoever gets voted in should ensure that we have a digital-first approach to government within the next five years. More data published, a switch from paper applications to web forms, upgrading our council offices, and a push to remember that millions of Britons don’t live in Britain.
So long, see you in five years.