On Thursday 5 May, many British citizens living abroad will have the opportunity to vote in the first UK-wide referendum in 35 years. But they need to act now, says the Electoral Commission, the independent UK elections watchdog.
Electoral Commission Head of Campaigns, Clinton Proud says: “The referendum gives voters the chance to have their say on how MPs are elected to the House of Commons. In order to vote, you will need to be on the electoral register. We know that many of the 5½ million British citizens living abroad are eligible to vote, but are not registered.
“Distance doesn’t mean you can’t make your voice heard. You can apply to vote by post or by proxy, and the forms to do this, and to register to vote, are all available on our website: www.aboutmyvote.co.uk. The deadline to register is Thursday 14 April – so now is the time to act.”
The Electoral Commission is responsible for the conduct of the referendum on 5 May, and has instructed Counting Officers in Britain to send out ballot papers to voters overseas as early as possible after 14 April.
The question being put to voters on Thursday 5 May is:
“At present, the UK uses the ‘first past the post’ system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the ‘alternative vote’ system be used instead?
“Vote (X) in one box only (Yes or No)”
For those of you not familiar with the Alternative Vote system (also known as the “Instant Run-Off” system, for reasons which will become clear), here’s a quick explanation:
From the point of view of casting your vote, there’s not a great deal of difference – it’s just that instead of just putting an “X” against one candidate’s name, you get to list your candidates in order of preference.
From the point of view of the count, it’s slightly more complex, but still pretty straightforward. If one candidate has more than 50% of the first preferences, they’re elected. Otherwise, the candidates with the least number of votes are eliminated and their votes transferred to the next highest-ranked candidates on each of their ballot papers. This process of elimination is repeated until one candidate has over 50% of the votes and is declared elected. (In other words, a run-off is held between all the candidates – but on the basis of just one round of voting. This contrasts with, say, France – where a second round of voting is held between the two highest-placed candidates.)
It’s not the most representative electoral system, by any means – there are several which more accurately reflect the will of the individuals that go to make up the electorate. But it would at least put an end to the absurd situation where a candidate can get elected when they’ve actually received fewer than 40% of the votes cast. (That’s not even a majority of the people who bothered to turn up and vote, let alone a majority of their constituents.) And it would also mean that future elections are likely to be decided by more than just a tiny proportion of the individual constituency polls.