Question to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities:
To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to facilitate more rapid (1) distribution, and (2) return, of postal votes to UK citizens overseas who are registered voters in general elections.
Returning Officers are responsible for the issue of postal votes at elections. The Electoral Commission guidance advises Returning Officers that they should prioritise postal votes that are to be sent overseas in order to maximise the time that postal voters have to receive, complete and return their postal vote.
The Government has recently taken steps to enhance the postal vote system for UK citizens living overseas. At the 2019 General Election, the Government funded a scheme to expedite the issue of postal vote ballot papers to overseas electors via Heathrow Airport. The Government has also funded the use of the International Business Response Licence which expedites the return of ballot packs from overseas, as well as covering any postage costs that might otherwise be incurred.
The Elections Bill includes measures that will make it easier for overseas electors to participate by enabling them to remain registered for longer with an absent vote arrangement in place. The registration period for overseas electors will be extended from one year to up to three years, and electors will be able to reapply or refresh, as appropriate, their absent vote arrangements at the same time as renewing their registration. The Bill also provides for an online absent vote application service to be introduced that will enable electors, including overseas electors, to apply for a postal vote online.