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La Poste takes action after Brexit envelope confusion

France's postal service La Poste has been forced to inform its branches across the country that they must accept envelopes containing postal votes for the EU referendum. It comes after reports of voters being told to buy stamps.

La Poste takes action after Brexit envelope confusion
The post office in the small town of Tessy sur Vire, in northwestern France. Photo: Steve Parker/Flickr
La Poste has told The Local that it has taken steps to remind staff at branches around the country that the special envelopes used to carry postal votes for the crucial EU referendum are valid and don't need stamps.
 
The move came after numerous expat voters reported issues on a local level with staff at La Poste apparently telling them the envelopes must have French stamps on them for them to be accepted.
 
That's despite the envelope clearly saying in both English and French “No stamp required” (Ne Pas Affranchir). 
 
“I can confirm that the reply envelopes used by British citizens for the referendum have been taken into account and are properly integrated into our mail circuit for the UK,” La Poste spokeswoman, Perrine Landry told The Local. 
 
“If there is a fault with this at a post office, we are making sure to fix it as soon as possible. 
 
“Furthermore, we are reminding post offices and the mail platforms the management of these envelopes,” she said. 
 
In recent days online expat threads have featured cries of complaints from people whose prepaid envelopes for their referendum postal votes have not been recognized by postal workers in France.
 
“I have tried to explain to (the Electoral Commission) that the problem is France-wide not just our département in 53,” wrote Lizzie Hale, who was told that a stamp was “definitely needed”.
 
“Why should we effectively lose our vote for following the voting instructions to the letter?” she added, apparently worried that those who didn't add a stamp would see their votes disappear.
 
Patrick Bell added: “A friend tried to post her vote but the post office insisted it needed a stamp. She had heard that votes arriving with stamps were disallowed.”
 
Others have reported concern that their vote won't be counted because they simply put the letter in a mailbox without checking with a postal worker first. 
 
Some, such as Carryn Hayward, advised other expats to buy a “poste priorité” stamp for one euro.
 
 
She said that she was advised that the envelopes without stamps “will be ignored by La Poste as they will not be paid for them”.
 
“Why take the chance” of not adding a stamp, she asked other expats. 
 
“I have been here 18 years, three of them as a civil servant and know only too well that public servants at local level make their own decisions. And I have seen them park in 'pending' anything they have not seen before to be dealt with at some time in the future. I can't vote but if I could and had taken the time to register I would put a stamp on the envelope to make certain my vote was counted.”

 
The Electoral Commission in the UK said in a statement that it has “arranged for airmail postage to be paid for the return envelopes” during the referendum.
 
All voters need to do is drop the completed ballot into a postbox, there is no need to bring it in to the workers behind the desk. 
 
The postal votes must be returned by June 23rd, it added.
 
Similar problems have been reported at local post offices in Belgium and Germany, but The Local's editions in other European countries including Spain and Sweden say that post offices there appear to be accepting the prepaid envelopes.

BRITS IN EUROPE

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.

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