NEWS

General Election 2017: The Disenfranchised Reveal How It Feels To Be Denied The Vote

Not everyone will be allowed to vote on Thursday.

07/06/2017 18:45

Millions of voters will head to the polls on Thursday to cast their vote in the General Election. 

For those fortunate enough to have their say on which party will become the next government, spare a thought for those denied a vote.

EU nationals and 16 and 17-year-olds are two demographics who will not be given the opportunity to vote. And although people living on the streets are technically allowed to vote, for those with no fixed address it can be increasingly difficult to do so.

We spoke to three people from each group to hear how it feels to be disenfranchised. 

16 And 17-Year-Olds 

Thousands of 16 and 17-year-olds will miss out on having their say in the General Election. Although this group were allowed to vote in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, they are barred from the polls on June 8. 

Jeremiah Emmanuel, a 17-year-old who was awarded a British Empire Medal in the New Years Honours list for his services to young people, is one such teen. 

After being elected to the UK Youth Parliament when he was just 11, Emmanuel went on to be named deputy young mayor of Lambeth and set up One Big Community, an organisation that helps young people end violence in their communities. 

But despite the sixth form student’s activism, he will not be able to vote in the General Election, turning 18 just 12 days after the vote.

British Youth Council
Jeremiah Emmanuel, who will turn 18 just 12 days after the General Election, will not be able to vote on Thursday.

Do you think you should be allowed to vote?

Yes, I think that all 16-year-olds and above should be able to vote. 

Why do you think you should/ shouldn’t be allowed to vote?

From the age of 16, you are qualified to do a number of jobs that you would probably say are best suited to an adult. You can join the armed forces, you can set up your own company. I just feel that from the age of 16, you have a greater sense of responsibility

How does it feel to be disenfranchised? 

It’s annoying because there are so many policies that might affect people of my age group. You have the Labour Party saying they will scrap tuition fees and you have a few other parties that are really pushing out policies that affect young people. How can you live in a country where politicians can affect you, but you’re not allowed to let your voice be heard or place a vote? 

What is the most important issue that affects you?

Education, the economy, and Brexit are all really important. It’s really, really annoying that these policies affect young people and the future but that a lot of us won’t be able to have our voices heard. 

Who would you vote for and why?

I still haven’t decided who I would vote for, for various different reasons. One of them is that I don’t think that one individual party represents my views and what I would like to see. None of them [the political parties] are doing enough for young people. 

What would your message to the future government be?

Think about the future of young people in the UK. In a couple of years, the policies that they are trying to put into action will really affect us. For example, the biggest impact Brexit could have is on young people when they are a bit older. So they need to do a lot more for young people, even though our voting turnout and engagement isn’t the best it could be, because we are the future and we are going to be in their shoes in a few years.  

What would governments do differently if people like you could vote?

If they said today that 16 and 17-year-olds were allowed to vote, you would have all of these parties coming up with the best policies for young people. If you have a group that could get you into power, they would revolve their policies and pledges around that audience. If we were allowed to vote, a lot of parties’ policies wouldn’t just be pensions and healthcare - they would be about young people and youth services.  

What is the one thing you want the future government to do?

I want them to abolish tuition fees. Uni shouldn’t be something you have to pay for. I’m not saying that you should just hand out free degrees and that you should be able to sign up for any degree you want to do - you obviously need to have that educational process. But spending £9,250 each year for three years, with living costs, is getting young people in debt for the majority of their adult lives. I feel so, so sorry for people that they have to go through this process. We are privileged to live in a society where we are entitled to free education, but it shouldn’t stop at degree level. Any sort of education should be free for anyone who lives in the country.

EU Nationals

More than three million EU nationals live in the UK. Under EU membership, EU nationals living in the UK can vote in local and European Parliament elections. As there is no requirement that EU citizens be entitled to vote in national elections, they are exempt.

Therefore, come Thursday, they will be denied a vote in the General Election.

Michal Siewniak has lived in the UK for 12 years. Originally from Poland, the father-of-three is “devastated” that he will not be allowed to vote in the General Election. 

The former Liberal Democrat councillor, who lives in Watford, says he values the right to vote and wishes he were able to have to his say on Thursday.

Aubrey Allegretti
Michal Siewniak is an EU national who has been living in the UK for 12 years, yet he will be denied the vote in Thursday's General Election.

How does it feel to be disenfranchised?

Really disappointing. I am absolutely devastated I can’t vote and I feel really upset that I can’t vote. As an EU citizen I can vote in the local elections, I can vote in the county council elections and in the European elections. I have never missed a voting opportunity in the UK. I remember growing up under Communism that my parents were not able to express their political beliefs and I really cherish the opportunity (to vote).

Do you think you should be allowed to vote? 

Yes. I have been here for 12 years. People who lived in Scotland for 10 years earned the right to vote in the Independence Referendum, but we don’t have that in England. I feel I deserve the right to vote and I would hate that right to be taken away from me.

Who would you vote for and why?

I would vote for the Lib Dems. The Lib Dems as a party are big on Europe, they believe in Europe and they are the only party that are pro-Europe. When I was a Lib Dem councillor I wasn’t judged and I always felt like a valued member of the party.

What are the most important issues that affect you?

I feel a little bit uncertain about my future in the UK. I am not sure what the implications are going to be for me and my family going forward. I have a lot of questions in light of the referendum that have not been answered. As someone who comes from Eastern Europe I feel as though I am being used as a bargaining chip and I feel like a second class citizen and that is very painful. Other important issues to me are education, the NHS, employment and the economy.

What would your message to the different political parties be?

I would like all the parties to have a balanced debate about all those issues that affect us all – the refugee crisis, the hospital crisis, globalisation and migration. If you disagree then hopefully you can build a meaningful platform for dialogue.

What, if anything, would governments do differently if people like you could vote?

Sometimes it seems as though politicians really don’t care, they are very happy to keep the status quo.

Would it actually make a difference if people like you could vote?

I think it definitely would. I would feel more empowered and it would help me to shape the future of this country. At the end of the day I have been here for 12 years, this is my home. My kids were born here, we have got a house here, I don’t want to go but I feel as though I might have to move somewhere else as I’m being seen as a burden. Being able to vote would allow me to have a platform to raise my concerns.

What is the one thing you want the future government to do?

Secure and protect the rights of EU nationals.

The Homeless 

Although homeless people are allowed to vote in the General Election, those living on the streets can find it much more difficult to do so compared to those who have a fixed address.

For people without a fixed address, they can use an address of a friend’s house, a hostel or a day centre. But even if you register to vote, homeless people can face difficulties that those who are not living on the streets don’t.

José da Silva has been living on the streets for two years. He says that when he has tried to vote in the past, he was not allowed into the polling station because he was carrying his bags.

The 26-year-old, whose parents are from Portugal, moved from South Africa to the UK ten years ago. But after losing his job as a chef he couldn’t afford his rent and was forced onto the streets.

Nitya Rajan
José da Silva is now living on the streets after losing his job and his home two years ago. He wants to vote but has had unpleasant experiences at polling stations in the past.

Do you feel disenfranchised?

At the moment I do because I have got no fixed address so it makes my life more difficult. Also, being homeless the polling stations don’t really let homeless people go in there. When I tried to vote before they wouldn’t let me in because of my bags. 

Do you think it should be easier to vote? 

Yes, I think it should be much, much easier to vote.

Who would you vote for and why?

I have no political party to vote for, so if I had to vote, I’d vote for David Cameron. Although he is not prime minister anymore I would vote for him because I think he is amazing, because he helps and he gets things done. 

What are the most important issues that affect you?

Being on the streets. Not being able to get help from the government. A place to stay so I can get a job. At the moment the only help that is being offered to me is to go into one of the homeless centres, where I have been told that all they will do is buy me a ticket back to South Africa. 

What would your message to the different political parties be?

To open their eyes more to homelessness because it’s becoming a big problem in the UK. It’s becoming a really big problem in the UK so help more of the homeless, get the streets clean because every 500 metres you see someone begging, you see someone homeless and that’s not fair.

What, if anything, would governments do differently if more homeless people voted?

To be honest with you, I don’t think it would make that much difference. Because we’re one in one million. I don’t think it would affect that much or make that much of a difference. 

Would it actually make a difference if it was easier for homeless people to vote?

Yes, it would. Polling stations would let you go in and instead of looking down at you people would just help you. People immediately think that if you’re homeless then you are diseased or you’re a tramp or a drug addict or you’re this or you’re that. I’m not a drug addict. I’ve had a drug problem in the past but not any more. But people like looking down on you, it just makes them feel good.

What is the one thing you want the future government to do?

Open more services for the homeless. 

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