This week, EU citizens’ rights group the3million are pressing ahead with a legal challenge to hold the UK government to account for denying EU citizens across the country their vote in the European Elections in May 2019. I am one of those people affected and this is my story.
I am a German film director living in London for the past five years.
Like so many other Europeans, my partner Kat and I were deprived of our basic human when we wanted to go to vote. We had filled out the additional form that EU citizens need to fill in to declare that they will only vote in the UK and not in their country of birth. My partner deliver the forms by hand to our local Electoral Service Office in Tower Hamlets on the 2 May.
A few days before the vote, I got nervous and I called my Electoral Services Office as I hadn’t received any response or polling card from them. I was told that an officer stamped our forms on the 16 May - nine days after the deadline and 14 days after it was delivered by my partner.
This was unacceptable to me. I got in touch with the head of our Electoral Services Office and he told me that there is basically nothing he can, or in this case will do to amend our franchise to enable us to vote.
I took days off work and tried everything I could possibly think of. From contacting my MP, contacting the mayor of London, the Electoral Commission, the3million, political parties, lawyers and human rights organisations and lastly, the press. It seemed as if there was nothing that could be done to change the outcome.
We woke up on 23 May, knowing that we, most likely, wouldn’t be allowed to vote. That our voices won’t be heard.
We went to the polling station anyway, went in and saw that our names on the list were written in red and crossed out. Both of us where rejected. We were #DeniedMyVote.
We were devastated. I felt empty, disappointed, angry and appalled.
This was it. This was our chance to get our voices heard. The first big occasion we had after the referendum as we where not allowed to vote in that or in the general election.
We where robbed of our rights, unlawfully disenfranchised, muted and discriminated against by the very electoral officers that exist to enable people to vote.
Things changed for us as soon as the Guardian picked up our story on the same day. The very man who had told me that we were not allowed to vote, declared now that it was their fault. That they just checked the CCTV footage and found out that it was their clerical error and that we were now allowed to vote.
We both voted later that day. Happy ending? No. It was damage control on their part. Would they have called if they hadn’t been asked for a statement by the press? We might have been allowed to vote in the end, but it was not their right to take our rights away from us in the first place.
What about all the others? The other Europeans that where turned away? How many are there? Thousands? Or even more?
It is unacceptable that we were unlawfully disenfranchised and couldn’t exercise our right to vote. Voting is the very foundation of democracy.
I know that the Electoral Services Office claims that this was a clerical error, but let me tell you that this is not just an error. If this hasn’t been done intentionally then it is sheer and utter incompetence. They knew about the issues which were also raised in parliament before. They ignored them anyway. They knew the vote was coming even though they claim it was last minute.
The UK government has refused to hold a public inquiry despite several successful petitions that between them gathered over 150,000 signatures. That’s why it is so important to support the3million’s attempt to hold them to account.
Voting is the very thing that makes a democracy. We need to make sure that millions of EU citizens living in the UK are not disenfranchised in future.
Moritz Valero is a German writer and director living in London