Wednesday, November 05, 2008


With the news of the US election dominating the press, it seems an appropriate time to address the issue of enfranchisement. There is a learning connection, I promise!

As we were listening to the news last night, we heard that three thousand lawyers had been sent out across the US to ensure that noone suffered any 'disenfranchising circumstances' (we had heard earlier that there were 5000 lawyers doing this job in Florida alone... don't you wish that the media would get their stories straight?).

I was explaining to my sons what sort of circumstances these might be. I'm not sure that the term disenfranchising is quite appropriate, since that would imply to me that you are struck from the voters' roll. Missing out on the opportunity to vote in a single election, while temporarily disempowering, hardly amounts to the same thing.

Be all this as it may. We are now living in our third town in the UK, and are being told a third version of which of us may and may not vote in the various elections.

Any member of the family who is old enough may vote in the local elections for third tier representatives. Fine. This makes sense, and has remained constant from the off.

With regard to the election of MEPs, we have had a very on-again, off-again situation. My husband (and sons when they are old enough) are eligible to vote in these elections, being Swedish nationals. Fine. No argument there. However, for the first few years that we were in the UK, I was told that I (as a South African national) was not. In our last town, I was told that I was, and was registered as such.

The biggest circus, however, has been in respect of our eligility to vote in national elections. Initially, we were told that none of us had that right, since none of us were UK citizens. Fair enough... although as taxpayers and recipients of the various national services, you would wonder about the appropriateness of this.

In our last town, however, I was sent registration forms. My husband was not. I questioned this and the story even made the local papers as journalists leapt on the iconsistency of information being issued by the various electoral officers. They maintained that he was entitled to vote, whereas I was not. This makes sense. Since my husband requires no visas or permits to live in the UK, but I do, you would think that if only one of us were to be enfranchised, it would be him.

At one stage he was registered and I wasn't. Then we were both registered... and both voted in the last election.

Now we have reverted to the situation where I may vote in all elections, but he may only vote in local and European elections. I have just this minute got off the phone to my local electoral officer who assures me that this is the status quo and has been for a great many years.

Coming to the learning connection:

What training provision is being made for these officers that has resulted in their giving such widely conflicting information? What are the implications of an electoral officer illegally (albeit unwittingly) enfranchising a person... and how on earth does the system not flag this up? I'm even more worried about those who are wrongfully disenfranchised, as I was for the first few years we lived in the UK. There is no system that can flag up that it is lacking data, as far as I know. How many other people are missing out on their one opportunity to exercise their right to say who they want representing their interests to parliament? When you have people out there dealing with the crucial matter of the electoral process, how is it possible that some of them haven't got a clue?

This is a situation where successful training is vital... and it isn't happening!


Jim said...

There is a simple explanation, lawyers are involved. They cannot possible state anything in clear language that anyone could understand. If they did we would realize we don't need as many lawyers.

Add to this effect the iron law of a government. Government employees do not exist to help the public, but to serve other government employees.

The upsycho said...

@Jim C Hmm. A tad cynical are we?