The House of Commons briefing paper, "Electoral franchise: who can vote?" summarises the rules for all elections. Basically, if you are 18 or over and a British, Commonwealth, Republic of Ireland or European Union citizen, resident and registered to vote in the UK, then you can vote at the elections of the Greater London Authority, the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland elections, all local elections, including Parish, throughout the UK, and the European Union elections -- that's them all, except the General Election! (See Chris Sear, "Electoral franchise: who can vote?" House of Commons, Parliament and Constitution Centre, 1 March 2005, www.parliament.uk/commons/lib/research/notes/snpc-02208.pdf
In this article, we take a closer look at the Franchise for all the elections in the UK.
THE ROLE OF EU CITIZENS IN THE FRANCHISE
Few people realise that EU nationals can vote and stand as candidates in local elections and European elections throughout the UK, and in assembly elections in Wales, Northern Ireland, and London and in the Scottish Parliament elections, as a result of Article 19 (paras 1 and 2) of the Consolidated Treaty on European Union:
1. Every citizen of the Union residing in a Member State of which he is not a national shall have the right to vote and to stand as a candidate at municipal elections in the Member State in which he resides, under the same conditions as nationals of that State…
2. Without prejudice to Article 190(4) and to the provisions adopted for its implementation, every citizen of the Union residing in a Member State of which he is not a national shall have the right to vote and to stand as a candidate in elections to the European Parliament in the Member State in which he resides, under the same conditions as nationals of that State…
While, Article 19(1) enables EU citizens to vote and stand at "municipal" elections only this has been interpreted to mean Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. From a strict "black letter" legal interpretation, the word "municipal" usually couldn't be stretched to mean an entire country! Chambers 20th Century defines the word as "pertaining to (the government of) a borough, town or city." Nevertheless, this is the practice, and by legislating to enable those eligible to vote at municipal elections to participate also in devolved elections, the government is interpreting Article 19(1) very widely.
The Electoral Administration Act 2006 (you can find all legislation quoted in this article, at the online Statute Book www.statutelaw.gov.uk) also means that people can register to vote up to 11 working days before polling day -- it used to be 8 weeks. This means that an EU citizen who arrived in Scotland around the 18th April 2007 and who immediately registered to vote in Scotland, would have had a say in who governs Scotland a mere 2 weeks later at its parliamentary elections on the 3rd May 2007 -- a freedom which undermines the concept of British citizenship.
Of course, the whole point of the EU is to get us out of that "parochial" way of thinking. We're all "citizens of the world", after all. However, this "citizens of the world" attitude is destructive of the social order because it ignores the fact that society is a fragile organism, held together by unspoken concepts such as the social contract -- the idea that we obey the laws in return for the advantages and protections which this confers -- and the social covenant -- the idea that we all share enough in common to pull together for the common good.
Both these concepts, which work to keep society stable, and our place within it meaningful, are undermined and subverted by permissive immigration policies and the enfranchisement of non-citizens.
While Article 19 gives EU nationals the "right" to vote and stand at local and Euro elections, this "right" has to be translated into British law through the following Acts of Parliament.
FRANCHISE FOR EUROPEAN ELECTIONS
The franchise in the Euro-elections is governed by the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2000 wherein:
8 Persons entitled to vote
(5) A person is within this subsection if he is entitled to vote in the electoral region by virtue of the European Parliamentary Elections (Franchise of Relevant Citizens of the Union) Regulations 2001 (S.I. 2001/1184) (citizens of the European Union other than Commonwealth and Republic of Ireland citizens).
(1) A person is entitled to vote as an elector at an election to the European Parliament in an electoral region if he is within any of subsections (2) to (5)…
This Statutory Instrument 2001 No. 1184 states:
Relevant citizens of the Union as European Parliamentary electors
FRANCHISE FOR LOCAL ELECTIONS
3.-(1) A person is entitled to vote as an elector at a European Parliamentary election in an electoral region if on the date of the poll he -
(a) is registered in the region in the register of relevant citizens of the Union entitled to vote at European Parliamentary elections (maintained under regulation 5(2) below);
(b) is not subject to any legal incapacity to vote (age apart);
(c) is a relevant citizen of the Union; and
(d) is of voting age (that is, 18 years or over).
Local elections are considered "municipal" elections and the franchise for local elections throughout the UK is governed by the Representation of the People Act 1983 wherein:
2.- Local government electors.
(1) A person is entitled to vote as an elector at a local government election in any electoral area if on the date of the poll he -
(a) is registered in the register of local government electors for that area;
(b) is not subject to any legal incapacity to vote (age apart);
(c) is a Commonwealth citizen, a citizen of the Republic of Ireland or a relevant citizen of the Union; and
(d) is of voting age (that is, 18 years or over).
202.- General provisions as to interpretation.
FRANCHISE FOR DEVOLVED ELECTIONS
(1) In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires - "citizen of the Union" shall be construed in accordance with Article 8.1 of the Treaty establishing the European Community (as amended by Title II of the Treaty on European Union), and "relevant citizen of the Union" means such a citizen who is not a Commonwealth citizen or a citizen of the Republic of Ireland;
The franchise at the Scottish Parliament election is governed by The Scotland Act 1998 which states:
11.-(1) The persons entitled to vote as electors at an election for membership of the Parliament held in any constituency are those who on the day of the poll-
(a) would be entitled to vote as electors at a local government election in an electoral area falling wholly or partly within the constituency, and
(b) are registered in the register of local government electors at an address within the constituency.
The franchise at the Welsh Assembly election is governed by
The Government of Wales Act 1998 which states:
10.-(1) The persons entitled to vote at an election of Assembly members (or of an Assembly member) in an Assembly constituency are those who on the day of the poll-
(a) would be entitled to vote as electors at a local government election in an electoral area wholly or partly included in the Assembly constituency, and
(b) are registered in the register of local government electors at an address within the Assembly constituency.
The franchise at Northern Ireland Assembly elections is governed by The Northern Ireland Act 1998 which states:
36.(7) A person is not disqualified for membership of the Assembly by virtue of subsection (4) by reason only that he is disqualified under section 3 of the Act of Settlement (certain persons born out of the Kingdom) if he is a citizen of the European Union.
The franchise for the Greater London Authority elections is the same as the franchise for the local government elections, as per sec 17, and schedule 3 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999.
FRANCHISE FOR BRITISH GENERAL ELECTION
The only difference at the General Election is that European Union citizens cannot vote -- but Commonwealth and Republic of Ireland citizens can still do so, and so can citizens of Cyprus and Malta, which are EU countries, but also Commonwealth countries!
In this regard, MigrationWatch released a briefing paper on the 21st February 2008 on the right of non-citizens to vote, with particular regard to the puzzling permission allowed "Commonwealth citizens". (See MigrationWatch, "The Right of Non Citizens to Vote in Britain", Briefing paper 8.22, www.migrationwatchuk.com/Briefingpapers/legal/8_22_TheRight_of_NonCitizensVoteBritain.asp
It had these important points to make (our emphases):
British electoral law provides for the citizens of nearly fifty Commonwealth countries, British Dependent Territories, and the Republic of Ireland to vote in both local and general elections in the UK. The Representation of the People Act, 1918, provided that only British subjects could register as electors. However, the term "British subject" included any person who, at that time, owed allegiance to the Crown, regardless of the crown territory in which they were born. This included Commonwealth citizens and has never been revised.
Entitlement to vote in general elections is reciprocated for UK citizens only in the Republic of Ireland and a small number of (mainly West Indian) countries: Antigua & Barbuda; Dominica; Grenada; Guyana; Jamaica; Mauritius; St. Lucia and St. Vincent & The Grenadines.
It points out that the scale of this extension of the franchise is considerable:
Data on International Migration and the UK provided to the OECD indicates that there were 3,353,000 foreign citizens living in the UK in 2006. Of these 1,057,000 are from named Commonwealth countries and we estimate that a further 105,000 are from other Commonwealth countries making a total of 1,162,000 Commonwealth citizens in the UK.
Some of this total will be children. Children under 18 make up 22% of the UK population but it is likely that they will make up a smaller proportion of the population of foreign citizens. The international migration statistics indicate that under 5% of net migration is of children under 15. Migrants cannot acquire citizenship until 5 years after their arrival in the UK so foreign citizenship will be weighted heavily towards recent arrivals. It is likely therefore that children who are foreign citizens will comprise less than 15% of the total population of foreign citizens leaving a population of nearly a million (988,000) adult Commonwealth citizens in the UK. They will have the right to vote in British elections simply by virtue of their Commonwealth origins.
The fact that these people can vote in Britain, but we can't even vote in their countries, and the fact that in a close election their votes will be critical is:
not only inequitable, but also illogical. It extends the franchise to a large number of individuals whose allegiance lies in states other than the United Kingdom. It is quite clearly an anachronism which, given the recent sustained increase in immigration, is now potentially significant. It should be removed.
MigrationWatch recommends that in future:
the right to vote in British general elections should be confined to citizens of the UK and those countries that offer reciprocal voting rights, namely the Republic of Ireland and certain West Indian countries. Proof of citizenship should be required on first registration on the Electoral Roll. The right to vote in local elections should be confined to citizens of the same countries plus those of the EU where there are reciprocal voting rights in local elections.
National citizenship -- as opposed to universalist concepts of "global citizenship" -- is undermined if we throw away its key privileges to people who are not entitled to enjoy them. If national citizenship is to be at all special -- if it is to mean anything -- then it must confer advantages upon national citizens, which are not enjoyed by non-citizens.
Voting rights is one of those key privileges.