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Migrant Rights Groups Launch Fresh Push to Ensure Migrants’ Voices are Heard in UK Elections

A new tool lets migrants in the UK know when and how they can vote – navigating the confusing patchwork of rules

Brazilian Londoner Rida with Lara Parizotto from the Migrant Democracy Project. A third of eligible EU and Commonwealth citizens here are estimated to be missing from the electoral roll

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Community organisations have united to get the vote out among UK migrants in this year’s elections, with a new push to address low voter registration rates.

The Migrant Democracy Project, Just Register, and Citizens UK have launched a new tool, the “Can I Vote? Checker” for migrants to work out whether and how they can vote in this May’s elections or the upcoming General Election. 

The online platform is designed to help UK residents from various nationalities determine their eligibility to vote, based on their citizenship and place of residence within the country.

The launch coincides with Commonwealth Day, and marks a response to concerns that many communities in the UK are unaware of their right to participate in the electoral process, potentially leading to a lack of representation among eligible migrant voters.

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Under current rules, individuals from the 56 Commonwealth countries are entitled to vote in all UK elections and referendums. Similarly, EU nationals residing in the UK have the right to vote in local and devolved national elections. Many, however, are unaware of these rights. 

Residents of Scotland and Wales, irrespective of their nationality, are allowed to vote in local and devolved national elections, provided they have the legal right to reside in the UK.

The “Can I Vote? Checker” aims to simplify the process for migrants to understand their voting rights by asking users to input their nationality and where they live in the UK. The tool also offers guidance to those who are not eligible to register to vote on how they can engage with the democratic process in other ways.

In some constituencies in the UK, barely half of the eligible migrant population is registered to vote, according to the Migrant Democracy Project. The creators of the “Can I Vote? Checker” argue that more registered and politically engaged voters would lead to a more representative and equitable democracy. It could also shift the political dial when it comes to “toxic” narratives about migrants in Parliament and elsewhere.

Lara Parizotto, Co-Director of the Migrant Democracy Project, told Byline Times: “We have a General Election on the horizon and local elections, including for metropolitan mayors, happening in May which will shape policies affecting people’s everyday lives, on housing, transport, education, and everything in between. 

“These decisions cannot happen without migrants’ input. However, voter registration rates amongst eligible EU and Commonwealth citizens are only 66% compared to 87% for UK nationals.”


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Newly empowered overseas voters tell Byline Times they are ‘sick of racist rhetoric’ and Britain’s Brexit fallout.

The barriers to democratic participation for migrant communities in the UK include a lack of translated resources and targeted messages from politicians encouraging their political participation, Parizotto says. 

But the current voter eligibility rules are also “extremely complex” she adds, with Commonwealth citizens being able to vote in all UK elections but EU citizens only being able to vote in local elections, and other residents having no vote at all. 

Changes brought by the Elections Act following the UK’s departure from the European Union bring further changes to EU citizens’ voting rights after May. 

While the rules for Westminster elections are the same everywhere, voting rights for other elections differ depending on which UK nation you live in. 

Parizotto says the new online translated resource can ensure “migrants make their voices heard in UK politics.”

Rida, a Brazilian living in London, added: “London is my home. The UK is my home. I care about my community. I volunteer with local groups keeping our streets clean and green. That’s why I am so excited about participating in elections by voting.”

Rida, who volunteers with Migrant Democracy Project on voter registration stalls, says it’s often difficult to tell people whether they can vote because some of us have dual nationalities which give different voting rights.

“Unfortunately, as someone with only Brazilian citizenship I cannot vote. My partner was born in Brazil but has Italian citizenship. Through this tool people like him can see that as an EU citizen, they can register to vote…I want those who have the right to make use of it by registering and turning up to the ballot box.

“There are so many of us migrants who can vote. I hope they get encouraged to do so, and I hope everyone gets the right to vote one day as well,” she said.

Neha D’Souza, an Indian-Australian campaigns manager from Just Register, a national voter registration campaign, helped to build the ‘Can I vote?’ tool because she didn’t realise she could vote in UK elections when she arrived in the country five years ago.

D’Souza said “Voting is a huge deal in Australia. We have mandatory voting, so we don’t even think twice about it. When I moved here five years ago, I didn’t realise I could get involved in UK elections. I’m hoping this initiative will encourage more Commonwealth communities, particularly the large number of eligible voters who can vote in London’s Mayoral Elections, to exercise their rights.”

To vote in the next General Election, voters must be correctly registered, be 18 or over, be either a British citizen, a qualifying Commonwealth citizen or a citizen of the Republic of Ireland, and must not be subject to any ‘legal incapacity’ to vote – e.g. prisoners serving a sentence for a conviction. They must also bring a photographic ID to vote in person. 
The rules are different for local elections, where overseas voters cannot vote, while resident EU citizens can vote.

However, most resident EU citizens will no longer be able to vote in local elections in England and Northern Ireland from May this year, as voting deals are being made between the UK and individual member states on a piecemeal basis. 16 and 17 year olds can vote in local elections in Scotland and Wales. The ‘Can I Vote?’ tool Is available here.

Update: This piece has been updated to correct the name of an organisation, Just Register, backing the new tool.

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