Last time I wasn't in the UK and a round of voting swung round, it was the mayoral elections for London, and I was in New York. This year, as the British general election looms (the most uninspiring election ever? It's like a choice between drowning and being bludgeoned to death), I have sighed deeply to myself and decided I might as well register for a proxy vote. "If you don't vote then you lose all right to complain for the next four or five years," lectured Mr Hudson, my A-level Politics teacher at school.
Lesson learnt. Up pops an instructional email in my inbox. "In the last UK general election, less than one per cent of the eligible expatriate population registered to vote. This represents a waste of nearly 2.3 million votes," it begins gravely. They should have been to Mr Hudson's classes, I think, before I press on with the small print. It tells me to go to www.aboutmyvote.co.uk and fill in a form, which should take "five minutes". I have experience of internet form-filling, and generally assume they will take three times longer than promised. Therefore the form will take me 15 minutes because I will have to type out my email address approximately 50 million times, remember my first pet's middle name and make up a password that contains both capital letters and numbers. All this, and yet experience dictates that I will still forget some vital digit.
The first problem is that I fill out the form for registering if you still live in the UK. Error. Back I go to find a box that says "Apply to vote by proxy." Click. There are eight reasons that you can register a proxy vote. I click on the box that says "Dowload proxy form for british [sic] citizens living overseas." How that warms the cockles, to know that the people in charge of our votes have not attained basic levels of grammar.
This form is seven pages long. It is covered in stern bullet points and daunting blanks to fill in. I write my name in lower-case letters, then notice bossy instructions to write in black ink and BLOCK CAPITALS. I then write my full name in the part that says First Name(s). Sigh. There are sentences that seem like trick questions, and I have to remember when I last voted in the UK. I work my way through the seven pages as might a spider with inky feet, crossing out and blotting as I go. And then I reach the part where I have to nominate a proxy, and fill it in before struggling down to the post office to send it to Lambeth Council in London.
It is quite possible that the form is designed to put off people too thick to be allowed a vote at all.