(Images and email screenshots at the bottom of the post)
I was refused a ballot in the General Election today.
I am a dual Polish-UK citizen living in Leeds, registered to vote in this election. I was naturalised in June 2016, just after the Brexit vote. I have lived in Yorkshire since 2005, when I arrived to study for a PhD in Women’s Studies at the University of York. Currently I am a university lecturer in Leeds. As a feminist, immigrant, concerned environmentalist, academic, and a very persistent individual I feel really strongly about my voting rights so I was looking forward with excitement to my first General Election vote this June.
I never received my polling card so I emailed the Electoral Commission in Leeds some time ago to make sure that I can vote. ‘You don’t need a polling card’, their response was. ‘You are registered to vote’. So this afternoon I skipped off to my local polling station at Temple Newsam Primary (East Leeds), and I grabbed my UK passport just in case. Little did I know that I was about to run into trouble immediately. I approached the table, gave my address, and was then told that I was ‘Category G’ (funny, I felt more like ‘Category B’ at that point), meaning I was ineligible to vote in this election as a Polish citizen. I felt everybody’s eyes on me. Do they think I am a fraud? I started to feel hot and embarassed.
Well, I am a dual citizen, so I said there must be an error somewhere, and the nice lady at the station gave me a phone number for the Leeds Electoral commission. Called them immediately. No response. Called them again. Again, an answering machine OK, says the nice lady, here’s another number to call. After punching through an extensive menu, I got put through to a clerk. He didn’t know anything and couldn’t help. After spelling out my name and the name of the clerk who had confirmed my registration by email earlier, I was told to wait for them to call me back. OK, says the nice lady at the station. I’ll call another number this time. She got put through and was told that I was ineligible to vote as a Polish citizen. Well, wasn’t I glad to whip out my British passport and wave it in her face. And then whoever was at the end of the line started crumbling. Oh, it’s a clerical error they say. She is indeed a UK citizen. So what do I do? asked the nice lady. ‘Give her a ballot and mark a clerical error in your register’ they said.
So that was that. They said at the station that there had been four other people who were refused the ballot there despite being apparently naturalised and registered, but they didn’t persevere like I did, and walked away.
I voted, smiled, and left. With a very high blood pressure rate, for sure. Well, that’s how elections are won and lost, and citizens categorised as A or B (yes, those of us who may be a G). Clerical errors are easy to explain away, too.
Update: I did hear back from the commission 3.5 hours after my call. At first they tried to maintain that I hadn’t informed them that I’d been naturalised, and then when I said clearly that I had, on the yearly update form that I received in 2016, they checked – and voila! They had the information, but whoever was updating their system, didn’t bother to put this in. As for the person who replied to my email query in May, he didn’t bother to check if I was registered in the system FOR THE ELECTION IN THE NEXT 9 DAYS. He only looked if I was registered (and I had been, as a EU citizen I had always voted in local and European elections). So two people made a ‘clerical error’. The data inputter and that man. Wait, where is the link for complaints about the Electoral Commission…https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/complaints
Caption: the polling station where I voted, eventually