A British expat who took a test case to the European Court of Human Rights to try to secure the right to vote in UK general elections has lost the case. Harry Shindler, 93, has lived in Italy since he retired from the army in 1982 argued that he should be allowed to vote in UK elections as he still has strong ties to the country. Currently anyone who has lived abroad for more than 15 years cannot vote in a general election in the UK but Shindler claimed that this breached his human rights. However, the court rules that it is entirely appropriate for the UK to have such conditions and said that there should always be ‘room for manoeuvre’ over eligibility for voting rights. It is an issue that is estimated to affect around a million British expats. The rules mean that expats can vote only in for general elections for a certain time but they can vote if they move back to the UK.
Many believe that no time limits should be imposed on UK citizens who live abroad. Like Shindler, they argue that they retain links with the UK such as bank accounts, pensions, and often homes that are rented out and therefore they need a say in the financial and political issues that can affect them. However, the ECHR said in its judgement said that this is not enough to have a ‘close connection’ to the UK.
Different countries in Europe have different rules about eligibility for general elections and the court said this should be allowed to continue. ‘Having regard to the significant burden which would be imposed if the UK were required to ascertain in every application to vote by a non-resident whether the individual had a sufficiently close connection to the country, the Court was satisfied that the general measure in this case promoted legal certainty and avoided problems of arbitrariness,’ the ruling said. It added that the ‘restriction imposed on Mr Shindler’s right to vote was proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued’.
The UK government has also argued in the past that there is not a huge demand from expats wanting to vote who are eligible to do so, saying that around 5.5 million UK citizens live abroad, but fewer than 13,000 had registered on UK electoral rolls by 2008. However, Votes for British Expats, an organisation set up to campaign for voting rights, pointed out that the United States, Switzerland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and most other developed countries in the world, allow their expats to vote.
Full Article: British expat loses court case over voting rights.