The government is set to be sued by campaign groups representing for EU citizens in the UK and British nationals abroad who were not allowed to vote in the European parliament elections on Thursday.
A crowdfunding campaign has been launched to raise enough funds for the legal battle, and already some of the UK’s top lawyers have agreed to help.
In the UK, hundreds of EU citizens reported being turned away at polling stations for the European elections, despite being registered to vote.
Many British nationals who live in other countries were left unable to vote when postal votes were not sent in time.
By the end of election day, the hashtag #DeniedMyVote had been tweeted over 100,000 times, as citizens experienced the largest case of discrimination since the UK decided to leave the EU.
The groups are exploring a legal challenge that could also potentially lead to compensation for those prevented from voting.
The fight is on 💪#DeniedMyVote was unlawful - help @the3million and @BritishInEurope hold the government to account! Help us challenge the disenfranchisement, discrimination and disrespect. Please consider making a contribution to the crowdfunder. https://t.co/upwdcpQiYM— Prof Tanja Bueltmann (@cliodiaspora) May 25, 2019
John Halford, a public law specialist at Bindmans who is working with the groups told the Guardian the fiasco was something a democracy should not tolerate.
“The right to vote is the foundation for all citizenship rights,” he said. “Last Thursday saw a large-scale, systematic, openly discriminatory denial of that right. The case we plan to bring will show that this is not something the law will tolerate and that there must be accountability and consequences.”
Since Thursday, the3million and British in Europe said they have been inundated with messages and emails of citizens who through no fault of their own were denied a vote.
While the groups won’t know yet how many people have been discriminated against, it is clear that this has happened in every part of the country and across the globe for UK citizens abroad.
In a statement, the groups said: “It shows a systematic failure of the Government, the Electoral Commission and local Councils. the3million had warned them ahead of the elections of the problems EU citizens were facing, but no actions were taken to mitigate the risks.”
Meanwhile the government is also facing calls to launch an inquiry into what went wrong.
Labour MEP Claude Moraes wrote to Home Secretary Sajid Javid on Thursday, calling for an inquiry into the “disenfranchisement of voters in a national election in the United Kingdom”.
He said councils had made three “main clinical errors” that appeared to have contributed to the issues: failing to communicate about the forms, failing to send the forms to people on time, and failing to register the forms when they were received.
Helen Thompson, a prospective Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate in Lambeth, claimed the problems were “horrific”, estimating as many as 2,000 people may have been turned away in the London borough alone.
“If the pattern is repeated across the borough and London that could potentially mean thousands of votes for Remain parties not being cast,” she told the Press Association.
Lib Dem MEP Catherine Bearder also raised concerns on behalf of British expats.
I have authored a cross-party letter to the Electoral Commission on behalf of those UK citizens abroad who couldn’t vote because their postal vote never arrived. Similar letter for EU27 citizens being sent by @Claude_Moraes. We cannot permit lousy disenfranchisement like this. pic.twitter.com/2wG2rZHPf1— Catherine Bearder 🔶 (@catherinemep) May 24, 2019
In a cross-party letter to the Electoral Commission, she said: “We have received a number of complaints from these citizens who have been prevented from voting given the delays in their postal vote being sent by the local councils.
“Local councils have admitted that they were unable to print and send off postal ballots for the EU elections given the short time frame, which has left numerous UK citizens disenfranchised.
“This has left people’s voices silenced and is an affront to our democracy. We would like to request that you allow all postal votes received before the count on Sunday to be considered valid given that it is still within the EU election period.”
Some of those affected spoke to HuffPost UK and expressed their shock and frustration at not being able to vote.
Cristina, a Spanish citizen in London who asked for her surname not to be used, said she felt “so frustrated and sad” because she had been looking forward to voting.
“I am upset because the election results won’t be an accurate image of what UK residents want,” she added.