Inquiry report: the voting registration process for EU citizens resident in the UK for the 2019 European Parliamentary elections held in the UK

Overview

Some citizens of other EU member states living in the UK, who had wanted to vote in the 2019 European Parliamentary elections in the UK, experienced difficulties in ensuring they were registered to vote. Ultimately, this meant that some people who were entitled to vote and wanted to vote in the European Parliamentary elections in the UK were unable to do so.

We looked at the registration process for EU citizens resident in the UK in relation to European Parliamentary elections, and what happened in practice before polling day in May 2019 to enable EU citizens to register to vote and vote in the UK. We also gathered evidence on the impact on EU citizens and their ability to register and vote in the European Parliamentary elections in the UK.

It sets out in detail:

  • the process for registering to vote for citizens of other EU Member States
  • the background to the policy and the legislation
  • what the Electoral Commission, the UK Government and Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) did to promote awareness of the registration process for EU citizens
  • data about the registration of EU citizens 

What we found

In summary, the feedback and comments we received from EU citizens, their families and elected representatives highlighted three main areas of concern:

  • they had not been aware of the need to complete an additional declaration as well as an application to register to vote.
  • they had not been able to submit a declaration in time before the deadline set in law.
  • they thought they had submitted a declaration in time, but were still not included on the electoral register and were not able to vote.

It is not possible to conclusively verify how many were affected. This is because there are no comprehensive data sources available to us or any other body that would tell us how many voters wanted to register and were unable to do so, or tell us how many attended a polling station on 23 May but were not able to be issued with a ballot paper.

Data provided by Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) after the elections shows that in the weeks leading up to the deadline more than 400,000 EU citizens submitted a declaration that was received and processed, which meant that they were therefore able to vote in the UK at the 2019 European Parliamentary elections.

In total, around 450,000 were registered to vote in these European Parliament elections as a result of returning a declaration (UC1 form). This represents just over a fifth of citizens of other EU Member States who had been included in the May 2019 local government register.

Approximately four in five EU citizens (1.7 million) who had previously registered to vote did not submit an additional declaration in time to be registered to vote at the European Parliamentary elections in the UK.

Some of these people may have wanted to vote in the UK but were not able to submit the declaration in time before the deadline, although we have no data that allows us to assess how many were in this position.

Equally, it is not possible to assess how many of these people opted to vote in the EU Member State where they held citizenship, or actively decided not to vote in the elections at all.

Our evidence

We have analysed evidence from a wide range of sources to identify the difficulties that some EU citizens in the UK had in registering to vote and submitting their declaration before the legal deadline of 7 May 2019.

Our evidence included:

  • calls made and emails sent to our enquiry lines
  • formal complaints made directly to us
  • concerns raised by MPs – via parliamentary questions and correspondence (before and after the elections) about the registration process for EU citizens and EU citizens being unable to vote
  • feedback from members of the Electoral Co-ordination and Advisory Board (ECAB) – a group coordinated by the Electoral Commission and the Cabinet Office (which brings together the 12 Regional Returning Officers from across the UK), on their experiences relating to the registration and participation of EU citizens and what activity they carried out to tell EU citizens what they had to do in order to be able to vote in the European Parliamentary elections
  • feedback from electoral administrators about the challenges they faced in relation to EU citizens registering to vote and voting
  • data from Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) about how many citizens of other EU Member States were registered to vote at the 2019 European Parliamentary elections, and who had been included in the May 2019 local government register.
     

The process for registering to vote for citizens of other EU Member States

Promoting awareness of the registration process for citizens of other EU Member States

Impact on EU citizens

How many EU citizens were included in the register

After the elections we contacted EROs across the UK to ask them to give us information about how many citizens of other EU Member States were registered to vote at the 2019 European Parliamentary elections.

We also asked for information about the number of citizens of other EU Member States who had been included in the May 2019 local government register.

This shows that approximately 450,000 (21%) of citizens of other EU Member States who had been included in the May 2019 local government register were also registered to vote in the European Parliamentary elections in the UK on 23 May 2019.

This proportion varied considerably across individual local authority areas, although three quarters of all EROs who returned data to us reported that between 10% and 30% of citizens of other EU Member States who had been included in the May local government register were also registered to vote in the European Parliamentary elections in the UK on 23 May 2019.

We cannot know how many of those who were not registered to vote at the European Parliamentary elections in the UK may have wanted to vote in the UK but were not able to submit the declaration in time before the deadline.

Equally, it is not possible to assess how many of these people opted to vote in the EU Member State where they held citizenship, or actively decided not to vote in the election at all.  

Overall, an estimated 37.2% of all registered electors turned out to vote at the May 2019 European Parliamentary elections in the UK. Turnout at the European Parliamentary elections in the UK in 2014 was 35.4%.  

Comparison with the 2014 European Parliamentary elections

Our estimates of the completeness of the local government electoral registers have found that citizens from other EU Member States are less likely to have complete electoral register entries (i.e. be included in the register at their current address) than UK citizens. 

In Great Britain, the rate of completeness among citizens of other EU Member States was estimated to be 54% in December 2018 (similar to the 53% we found in February/March 2014). This compares to 86% for UK and Irish citizens in December 2018.

After the May 2019 European Parliamentary elections we asked EROs to tell us how many citizens of other EU Member States had been added to the register of European Parliamentary electors through the interim notices of alteration to the registers (in the weeks before the registration deadline).

We received data covering all but five areas, which showed that approximately 400,000 citizens of other EU Member States were added to the registers ahead of the 2019 elections. 

Figures from 2014, when 29 EROs were unable to provide data to us, shows that approximately 325,000 citizens of other EU Member States were added to the registers ahead of the May 2014 European Parliamentary elections.

However, drawing any comparison between the 2014 and 2019 data is difficult because of the different levels of non-response from EROs, the increase in the absolute number of eligible EU citizens in the UK between 2014 and 2019, and the earlier issue of UC1 forms in 2014 (which might have meant that more electors were added to the register of European Parliamentary electors in the period before the interim notices of alteration). 

The reasons why some EU citizens were unable to vote

We have looked at evidence from a wide range of sources where concerns were raised about EU citizens being unable to vote in the May 2019 in the UK European Parliamentary elections. These sources included: 

  • 149 calls made and emails sent directly to the Electoral Commission’s enquiry line 
  • 618 formal complaints raised directly with the Electoral Commission - we looked at a sample of these complaints which confirmed that they matched the findings from our other data sources 
  • concerns raised by MPs – via parliamentary questions and correspondence -  before and after the elections raising the issue of EU citizens not being able to register to vote and vote

We found that the reasons why some EU citizens were unable to vote fell into three main areas.

It is also likely that some citizens of other EU Member States may have chosen to vote in the country where they held citizenship, either because this is something they have previously done or because they did not think that the UK would take part in the 2019 European Parliamentary elections.

However, there is no available data on the number of people who actually chose this option.

EU citizens who were not aware of the declaration requirement

EU citizens who were not aware of the declaration requirement

The most frequently cited concern was that some citizens of other EU Member States were not aware that they needed to complete an additional declaration in order to be included in the register of European Parliamentary electors.

This accounted for over half of the queries that we received from EU citizens and most of those we received from a family member on their behalf. It included people who:

  • had successfully completed an application to register to vote (as a local government elector), but did not realise that a further declaration was needed to be able to vote in the European Parliamentary elections in the UK
  • said that the acknowledgement that confirmed they were registered to vote as a local government elector did not tell them that a further declaration was needed, and therefore assumed that this meant they were also registered to vote in European Parliamentary elections in the UK
  • had received a declaration form from their ERO, but didn’t understand that they needed to complete it to be able to vote in the European Parliamentary elections in the UK

EU citizens who had not submitted a declaration in time

EU citizens who had not submitted a declaration in time

A smaller number of queries were from citizens of other EU Member States who had understood that they would need to complete a separate declaration in order to be included in the register of European Parliamentary electors, but were unable to submit it before the deadline on 7 May 2019. This included people who:

  • said that they had not received a declaration form from their ERO but found out about the requirement from another source; had downloaded, completed and submitted the form by post, but found it had not been received by the ERO before the deadline
  • said that they had not received a declaration form from their ERO but found out about it from contacting their ERO regarding other issues but too late to be able to submit the declaration
  • had received a declaration form from their ERO, but had not had enough time to complete and submit it by post to the ERO before the deadline

EU citizens who submitted a declaration in time but were still unable to vote

EU citizens who submitted a declaration in time but were still unable to vote

Around a sixth of queries, almost all received directly from citizens of other EU Member States, highlighted that they had been able to complete and submit a declaration before the deadline on 7 May 2019, but found they were still unable to vote. This included people who:

  • had completed and submitted the declaration form by email or by using an online service, but said that the ERO would not accept a submission in that way
  • believed that they had completed and submitted the declaration form by post before the deadline, but said that the ERO claimed they had not received the form by the deadline
  • believed that they had completed and submitted the declaration form by post before the deadline, but said that they were not included in the register of European Parliamentary electors on polling day because of a clerical error by the ERO.

Key dates in the lead-up to the elections

Background to the policy and legislation

Last updated: 8 October 2019
Next review: 29 September 2020