Government talks up online electoral registration
Online registration can help tackle the problem of millions of 'missing' expat voters, a minister has said in a debate on the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill.
Mark Harper, the constitutional reform minister, said last week that the government plans to set up websites, explaining the positions of parties and candidates.The government is under pressure to take action to encourage more Britons living overseas to vote in general elections.
More than four million people living overseas could be eligible to cast their vote, the House of Commons heard - but fewer than 24,000 are on the electoral register.
The poor response is despite growing efforts by the political parties to encourage registration, believing it could make the difference in marginal constituencies.
Some potential overseas voters have criticised a complicated registration system and a lack of electronic voting - although forms can be downloaded from the Electoral Commission website.
During committee stage of the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill he told MPs: "We are also considering a trial of online registration. I think that could help not just voters living in the United Kingdom, but those living overseas."
The minister spoke after Conservative MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown called for new regulations to make it easier for Britons based overseas to vote. The Cotswolds MP said: "At present, around 5.6 million British subjects live abroad, of which it is estimated 4.3 million are estimated to be of voting age.
"And yet, in December 2011, a mere 23,388 overseas voters were registered to vote, according to the Office for National Statistics."
Clifton-Brown argued it was not the case "that British people who live overseas have no interest in taking part in our elections". Instead, he said the figures suggested "there are issues with the system for registering overseas voters which are actively deterring them".
To become an overseas voter, an applicant must complete a form, have it witnessed by another Briton living overseas and then send it to the electoral registration office for the area in which they were last registered to vote.Clifton-Brown suggested people living overseas applying for a passport could also register to vote at the same time. Registration forms each year could then be sent by email and returned by post.
In response, Harper agreed it was important that expat voters had "the opportunity to contribute to deciding who governs this country".