British votes left under a cloud

Volcanic ash has prevented thousands of British voters living in New Zealand and Australia from taking part in one of the closest election battles in 20 years.

Britons have been left frustrated after voting papers arrived too late to be posted back to Britain.

Voting papers had to be received in Britain before the polls closed at 9am today (New Zealand time).

The papers were printed by April 23, but airmail to New Zealand and Australia was delayed when the Icelandic volcano eruption closed European airspace last month.

The British election has been closely fought, with Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats neck and neck in the polls.

However, polls published yesterday suggested the Conservatives may be gaining last-minute support.

British-born Christchurch resident Iain Highet received his voting papers yesterday morning. "So, basically, I have lost my vote and it is the volcano's fault," he said.

"The election is not a foregone conclusion, so it is annoying to lose my vote."

Highet, 28, said he had never missed an election. "It will be frustrating not to be a part of it."

Expatriate Carla Moore, of Christchurch, received her voting papers on Monday morning.

"It is frustrating, because it is important to take part in the democratic process," she said.

"There should have been a contingency plan in place to allow people to vote if they didn't receive their voting papers in time."

British High Commission staff in New Zealand and Australia said a significant number of expatriates would not be able to vote.

There are 225,000 British adults living in New Zealand.

The British High Commission has urged British voters to register for a proxy vote, with information available on the High Commission website.

The Press