Today is Voter registration day. Not only is it a celebration of our democracy but every face book user will be receiving a reminder to vote, and many campaigns across the country will be pushing awareness to the electorate to register. This year it is more important than ever that we remind each other to register, and register ourselves.
In July the voting system, in an effort to meet 21st century expectations, moved to an individual registration system. Previously, it was under the household system which meant that the head of each household could register everyone in the home. Although the new system counters the issue of voter fraud (of which there have only been 10 proven cases) and is a move toward modernisation there are fears that it is alienating groups of society who may not be made aware of the change or are simply less likely to register if they have to do it themselves.
The electoral commission put forward that 40% of people are not aware they can register online in about 5 minutes. Considering that millions of people will now have to individually register this figure is concerning. It is crucial that people are made aware of first, the fact they need to register, and second how easy it is to do. Groups of particular concern are students, renters and young adults.
Focusing on students as an example: before the system change it was possible for halls of residence to register everyone within the hall. This now needs to be done individually by every student. The lowest turnout of all age groups in 2010 was 18-24 year olds at only 51%, and only 56% are registered compared to 94% of those aged over 65. Surely this statistic will only be lower now that millions more students now have to register themselves individually? The alienation of this group from the electorate must be tackled, and it is clearly extremely important that responsibility is taken to make them more aware of what they need to do to register and why it is so important to vote.
We recently launched the ‘Show up’ campaign. Decisions are made by those who show up. But what if you show up, and you find yourself disenfranchised? If we want to make a difference at this election and have our voices heard we must vote. We also must take the opportunity we have until the 20th April to inform others that they need to register, and spread the word that registration has changed. Everyone would agree that every single person should have the chance to vote and registration shouldn’t stop them, especially when it is so easy. The election is clearly going to be close, so every vote counts! In the United States (2012) the higher turnout of minority groups, notably the first time 10% representation of Hispanics, made a crucial difference to the outcome – proving again the importance of showing up and encouraging others to do so also. In addition, even before this registration change research showed that 7.5 million people eligible to vote were not registered. That’s the equivalent of almost the entire population of London not turning up to vote, a number that has to be cut down.
Andy's book ‘Those who show up’ and other resources are available here and can be extremely useful in enabling efforts to get people involved in politics. This voter registration issue is just another reason on top of so many more highlighting why we need to focus on showing up on the 7th May 2015!