Ministers are accused of a "scandalous failure" to help Britain's servicemen and women exercise their democratic right to vote in the next general election after it emerged that more than 60,000 are still unregistered – one-third of the regular armed forces.
The numbers of unregistered soldiers, sailors and airmen represents the size of an electoral constituency. About 94 per cent of the British adult population is registered to vote in elections.
Last night politicians and former soldiers called on the Government to do more to extend the franchise across the whole of the forces. The Liberal Democrat peer Lord Roberts of Llandudno said: "A general election could be called any time and these issues must be urgently resolved. It is scandalous that the Government expects our soldiers to put their lives on the line to protect democracy overseas with no guarantee they will be able to vote in elections at home."
He added: "Campaign information must reach people in time so they are informed when they vote. This is pertinent given the unpopularity of the present government."
A former British officer said that it was his experience that soldiers in far-flung or dangerous parts of the world had no time to arrange for a proxy or to register for a postal vote. "To be perfectly frank they have more pressing concerns – registering to vote is last thing they are thinking of."
Lord Roberts called on the Government automatically to register every soldier, sailor and airman in the country. He said the figures, released by the British Armed Forces Federation, revealed a lack of will on the part of the Government to get soldiers to the ballot box.
"The fiasco with late registration forms before the 2005 election left some of our troops disenfranchised. I want to know what the Government is doing to ensure members of our armed forces serving overseas get to vote in 2010."
A spokesman for the British Legion said that it would support anything that made it easier for members of the armed forces to exercise their democratic right.
The Electoral Commission said it had been working jointly with the Ministry of Defence to encourage more armed personnel to vote: "We've sent information to every unit in the country and have assisted in helping them with with proxy and postal voting. We also hold registration days and target military and local press."
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