DeniedMyVote: EU Citizens Report Being Turned Away At Polling Stations

Some are being told the problems are due to the election only being confirmed at the last minute.

EU citizens have reported being turned away at polling stations for the European elections, despite being registered to vote.

Polls opened at 7am across the UK on Thursday, but within hours, the hashtag #DeniedMyVote began trending on Twitter, as EU citizens began sharing stories of being told they could not vote.

A number of others posted on Facebook group run by the3million, a campaign organisation supporting EU citizens affected by Brexit, asking for advice after also being turned away.

Cristina, a Spanish citizen in London who asked for her surname not to be used, told HuffPost UK she couldn’t vote after her council said they “didn’t have to send the forms, so they didn’t do it”.

EU citizens have to go through a two-step process in order to be able to vote. They first must register to vote and then also fill out a “UC1 form”.

Labour MP David Lammy said reports were flooding in of people encountering problems and called the two-step verification process “ugly discrimination”.

Many would-be voters said they had filled the form in but still weren’t able to take part, while others say they never received the form or that the council claim the completed form wasn’t received.

Prior to the election Nicolas Hatton, the co-founder of the3million, wrote to the Electoral Commission, the independent body which oversees elections, to accuse the regulator of providing insufficient guidance, leading to inconsistent advice from local authority electoral officers.

“The3million has multiple examples of local authorities mishandling the application process,” he said in a three-page letter.

The campaign group today said it had been contacted by “hundreds of angry EU citizens from all around the country” who were turned away from polling stations.

A statement said it was “outrageous that the incompetence and unwillingness of the government and the Electoral Commission have denied these people a vote”.

Cristina, who is registered to vote in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, is one of the many people who have struggled to vote.

She told HuffPost UK she didn’t receive the second form and therefore was not allowed to vote today, which made her feel “so frustrated and sad”.

“I was looking forward to voting today. I am upset because the election results won’t be an accurate image of what UK residents want,” she said. “This issue is particularly serious because K&C is one of the boroughs with higher rate of EU citizens.”

She said she read online that other councils had sent the form in the post but when she rang the local electoral office on Thursday morning, they said that Kensington and Chelsea “didn’t send any forms to anyone or inform the EU citizens about it”.

She said she had asked why they hadn’t sent the form out and was told that the council “didn’t have to send the forms, so they didn’t do it”.

“I told her that other councils did and how would we know this form was necessary if they didn’t inform us. She replied that if I wasn’t happy I could write a complaint.”

A spokesman for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea told HuffPost UK, however, said it did write to all 16,594 existing registered European electors, but only 2,610 completed UC1 forms were returned.

Portuguese married couple Ana and Emanuel, who asked for the surnames not to be used, wrote to their local electoral office and the Electoral Commission on Thursday morning to complain they had been denied their votes.

In the letter seen by HuffPost UK, Ana said she had filled in the voter registration form but hadn’t received their polling cards.

She said: “We called the council a week ago and was told that if we did not received them we could just go to the polling station and vote (no one checked with me if they had our forms in our not).”

The couple, who have been in the UK for five years and have had no problems voting before, went to their local polling station in Waterlooville, Hampshire but their names were crossed off with letter G. They were told this meant some European citizens are not allowed to vote.

She was told to call the council, which she did.

“Apparently they did not receive our forms (two separate forms sent in separate envelopes). [It] seems to us rather strange that both our forms mysteriously disappeared,” she said.

She told HuffPost UK she is “seriously annoyed and frustrated as although we do not tend to participate much in elections we saw this one as a quite important one”.

Others have been able to vote but only after putting in complaints and making calls to local councils.

Marta Federici, who is Italian, and her husband, who is Greek, also both encountered problems on Thursday morning but were later able to vote.

When she was turned away at the polling station, she was “incredulous” as they had both submitted everything necessary in time.

She said: “The polling staff gave me the number of Lewisham’s electoral services manager - I called and left a voicemail. He called me back promptly and was able to track the clerical error. He was really apologetic and issued an official letter for both me and my husband to allow us to vote.”

Federici believes the fact the elections were only confirmed at the 11th hour, meant councils were short on time to sort everything out.

On Facebook, another EU citizen said he was told by officials in his local area that the problems were “due to the short time for calling and preparing for the elections.”

Mike Kovacs, who lives in Cambridge and holds both Canadian and Hungarian passports was keen to ensure he was registered as an EU citizen ahead of the elections.

After being turned away at the polling station, he was later told it had been a mistake but it was too late for him to vote as he had to travel to London for the day.

After registering to vote, and also submitting the additional required form, which he says was “difficult to figure out, even as a native English speaker with a Master’s degree in engineering”, he received an email confirmation to say it had been received. When he checked manually, he was told he was registered to vote.

He went to his polling station in Cambridge at 7am this morning, not anticipating any problems at all.

However, he said staff at the polling station looked up his name and told me it was classified as “EU citizen, only eligible to vote in local elections”.

Kovacs said: “The person in charge of the polling station advised EU citizens are only permitted to vote in local elections. He apologised and said I could make a complaint; provided me with the contact info; and I had to get going because I had to get a train.”

He said he did follow up by phone with the Cambridge election authorities.

He said: “After initially taking the position that I had not submitted the required form, the person on the phone found the form somewhere in their system, and said a “mistake had been made; [he] had to contact his manager and get back to me”.

“About 20 minutes later, it was resolved for me, but only because I called and insisted. The person acknowledged that this was problematic, and it was due to the short time for calling and preparing for the elections.”

However Kovacs will still be unable to vote as he is not due back from London until after polling closes.

“Excellent vote suppression,” he added.

Hornsey and Wood Green Labour MP Catherine West had raised an urgent question in the Commons about the potential issues in April.

On Thursday morning she said: “Sadly, my office has already received scores of reports of EU citizens being turned away from polling stations, despite the fact that they were all registered to vote in local elections a few weeks ago.”

She added she was “furious that the [government] refused to act”.

Lammy, said in a tweet: “Three years of being insulted, exploited and asked to apply to stay in their own homes.

“Now reports flooding in that EU citizens are being turned away at polling stations, despite being registered to vote.

“The two step process is ugly discrimination.”

The Electoral Commission said there has been no change to the process for EU nationals to register and declare to vote in the UK for these elections – it requires a two-step process.

In a later statement, the body said it understood the “frustration” of those EU citizens who live in the UK who have been unable to vote.

The statement said: “This legal process could be made easier for citizens, and the Commission made the case for doing so following the last EU elections in 2014. However, improvements to the process are reliant on changes to electoral law, which can only be taken forward by government and parliament.

“The very short notice from the government of the UK’s participation in these elections impacted on the time available for awareness of this process amongst citizens, and for citizens to complete the process.”

Joanna Cherry, MP for Edinburgh South West and the SNP’s spokesperson for justice and home affairs said she had been “shocked, but sadly not surprised” by the reports of the problem coming in from across the country.

She said: “Along with other parliamentary colleagues I have been warning the government about this since they faced up the fact that the UK would need to contest these elections.

“Yesterday at PMQs I asked prime minister to user her office to sort this out and make sure the UC1 form was available at polling stations.

“Her high handed and dismissive response was typical of the Tory government’s approach to the rights of EU Citizens. It is particularly egregious to hear of some Irish citizens who do not need to complete this form at all, are being are also turned away. This process has gone badly wrong.”

In a statement, the government said it is aware of the reports but does not have any role in the administration of polling stations.

The official spokesman Number 10 said: “However, I do recognise there is frustration.

“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 to meet necessary timetables.

“I’m sure the Electoral Commission will take any reports seriously.”


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