Ministry of Defence written question – answered on 17th November 2020.

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Photo of Stephen Morgan Stephen Morgan Shadow Minister (Defence) (Armed Forces and Defence Procurement), Shadow Minister (Defence)

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, what assessment he has made of the extent to which overseas service personnel face challenges in their postal votes being (a) delivered on time and (b) counted in UK elections.

Photo of Johnny Mercer Johnny Mercer Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (jointly with the Ministry of Defence)

The Ministry of Defence (MOD) is aware that postal voting for Service personnel posted overseas can be challenging. The MOD raises the issue of overseas defence postal voters with the Cabinet Office prior to each national electoral period, requesting that the Electoral Commission ensures that British Forces Post Office (BFPO) addresses are prioritised and despatched as soon as possible. However, in accordance with electoral statute, the earliest that ballot papers can be distributed is 19 working days before Polling Day. This means that BFPO have a maximum of 19 days to distribute and return ballot papers across the globe. While the BFPO makes every effort to ensure that postal ballots are received in good time, this cannot be guaranteed. We therefore advise our personnel serving overseas of the risk that they may not be able to return their ballot before the voting deadline. Due to the time it can take to deliver and return postal ballot papers overseas, we advise our personnel to consider appointing a proxy vote instead.

The MOD will continue to work with the Electoral Commission to ensure that overseas Armed Forces votes are processed quickly. However, current Parliamentary rules regarding the timescales placed on postal voting are outside the remit of the MOD. Additionally, the introduction of any alternative voting processes for overseas voters remains a matter for the Electoral Commission to consider.

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