The new individual electoral registration system came into force in December 2015 in an effort to reduce fraudulent entries and inaccuracies. According to research conducted by the Labour Party, the estimated number of voters is far fewer than in 2014. The Electoral Registration Society tweeted that they had warned the government not to implement the new method too early, fearing the results of drastic change. Overall 1.8% of voters, approximately 800,000 people, are estimated to have dropped off the register.
Electoral register loses estimated 800,000 people https://t.co/57DB7UzAX3 We opposed gov'ts decision to switch to IER a year ahead of plans— Electoral Reform Soc (@electoralreform) February 1, 2016
Labour has expressed concerns over the present situation as, allegedly, the majority of the missing voters are its supporters. This will be an acute loss in the running up to the May local, assembly and mayoral elections. More importantly, the December list will be used to validate any upcoming boundary adjustments meaning the existing figures could exaggeratedly advantage the Conservative party. Labour faces the potential loss of votes as Welsh representation could fall by 25% under the parliamentary review. Compounded by the challenge of winning seats back from the Scottish National Party, the falling number of voters could have a hugely detrimental effect on Labour.
Concerningly, the figures compiled seem to suggest the disenfranchisement of students in university towns. Canterbury saw a 13% drop in electoral registration and both Cambridge and Dundee West faced a decline of 11%.
The Shadow Minister for electoral registration, Gloria De Piero, posits that voter registration should be integrated with enrolment. Piero suggests Sheffield University’s above average registration numbers is due to this policy, and that other universities should either follow Sheffield University’s example, or make registration simpler in other ways. She emphasises that, “measures should be taken to ensure that it is as easy as possible for individual students to register.”
Universities are limited in their options, however. The Individual Electoral Registration prohibits universities from mass registering students in their halls of residences. It might also be seen as unethical to pressurise students to register. In an increasingly apathetic political climate, some students might be choosing to withhold their vote and could perceive governmental involvement as a challenge to their views. Nevertheless, John Penrose, a Cabinet Office minister, has suggested that other methods of boosting student registration are being tested throughout the country with encouraging results.
Initiatives outside of the government are also trying to encourage young voters to register. Bite the Ballot, a campaign group that strives to empower youths and help them engage in decision-making, is organising a national voter registration drive.
It remains to be seen whether these enterprises will have any significant effect. Perhaps voters have not simply fallen off the register out of sheer laziness rather, they no longer identify with the Labour party itself. This should serve as a wake-up call for Labour politicians to re-engage with their usual supporters, especially students.
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