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Citizenship – reflections on voting

I lived in America for twenty-five years. Never once during that time did I vote. I paid taxes on the state and national level, but I was not eligible to vote because I did not become a US citizen. I could not even vote on little local issues that affected the amount of property taxes I paid for the fire department, the police, sewers, etc. This seemed to be taxation without representation, but it was my choice. I had not become an American citizen. There were responsibilities and loyalties and public spirit in being a citizen that I had declined to commit to.

Roger Scruton wrote that “Public spirit is perhaps the most misunderstood of all the features of citizenship, and the one that has been most precious in Anglophone history. The public-spirited person gives time, energy, and resources for the benefit of others. . .”

You do not have to be public-spirited to be a citizen and vote. But as you are helping to decide the course of Britain and how you and your fellow citizens will live, it makes sense that in Britain it's British citizens who vote on what matters to them.

Regrettably, a sensible procedure is not what we have.

I was astounded when I studied the voter registration form in the UK to realise that a lot of people who are not British citizens can vote in British elections. Citizens of fifty Commonwealth countries who are resident in Britain are entitled to vote in local and general elections, and citizens of EU countries are allowed to vote in local elections.

Nor does anyone have to prove citizenship of Britain, a Commonwealth country or the EU. You simply fill in the form and sign it after it has been delivered to your house. There is no check made on the number of voting age citizens in a particular household.

Does this strike you as strange, even nuts? Why would people who do not really know Britain, and have not become citizens have the right to vote about the things that matter to British citizens?

Sir Andrew Green, the chairman of Migration Watch, says, “A fair, honest, and equitable electoral system is the bedrock of a democratic society. Few people realise how many non-citizens have the right to vote, and how feeble are the safeguards against illegal voting. . .The outcome of a close-run election could be affected by the votes of people who are not British and may not even have the right to vote. . ."