As many as 50,000 military personnel may miss out on their chance to vote in June’s once-in-a-lifetime referendum on British membership of the European Union (EU), as they are not registered to vote.
Military leaders have called for a specialist recruitment drive on barracks.
A recent survey of the Armed Forces found that just 73 percent of employees are registered to vote, short of the 85 percent of British adults as a whole who are signed up. As the Armed Forces employs in the region of 200,000 staff, that means as many as 50,000 military personnel who will not get a say in whether Britain remains within the EU or not.
With many of those personnel likely to be stationed abroad in difficult circumstances, military leaders have criticised the Ministry of Defence for failing to put any “significant effort” into helping to ensure they are signed up to the electoral register and able to vote.
Instead, it has been left to the Electoral Commission to arrange a specialised Facebook campaign designed to reach out to military personnel and encourage them to register.
Sir Richard Dannatt, the former head of the British Army, told The Telegraph: “Due to the mobile lifestyle of most service people too many are not registered to vote nor have arranged a proxy or postal vote.
“Given the importance of the EU Referendum it would be very timely of the MoD to urgently mount a special campaign to get more service people and their families registered to vote. Soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines willingly lay their lives on the line for their country so it is really important that they have a say in how the Country is governed.”
Richard Kemp, the former commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, said: “The Armed Forces make no significant effort to encourage soldiers to register to vote or to vote. Given the exceptional circumstances of military service, they should do so.”
Every barracks has a designated unit registration officer who can assist with the process, while troops stationed abroad are eligible to vote using the Ministry of Defence’s special postal voting service.
An Electoral Commission spokesman confirmed that the Commission was working with the MoD to ensure that service men and women had access to voting guides, currently being distributed to every household in Britain. “Resources are also available for Unit Registration Officers at bases to encourage personnel to register,” they said, adding: “It’s vital that every effort is made to ensure our service personnel are able to have their say at this historic referendum.”
An MoD spokesman said: “Service personnel are encouraged to register so that they can vote in all relevant elections. We, like all government departments, have been running a wide-ranging campaign to encourage everyone both at home and abroad to register to vote in the EU referendum. The campaign includes social media, posters and direct information through the chain of command.”