Drive to register voters amid falling figures in Suffolk and Essex
- Credit: PA
District councils and students have pledged a big drive to ensure people vote in the general and local elections in May amid figures which show registrations have fallen in the wake of an overhaul of the system.
Ipswich and Colchester, which both have a high proportion of students, saw a near 5pc fall in electoral registrations, according to figures compiled by the Labour Party, with most other parts of the region also seeing a drop.
In a speech yesterday, leader Ed Miliband said the loss of hundreds of thousands of names from the electoral register is the Government’s “final insult to young people” and a denial of their “sacred democratic rights”.
The Government introduced individual voter registration to reduce electoral fraud. Labour says many of the missing voters are young people - in part due to the decision to end the block registration by universities and colleges of students living in halls of residence.
His claims were dismissed by Lib Dem MP Tom Brake who said Mr Clegg had been responsible for securing £10 million of extra funding to support registration by students and other under-represented groups.
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He said many of the “missing” student voters would still be on the electoral roll but would have previously been registered twice.
“Labour must have forgotten they began the policy of individual electoral registration while they were in government and still support it in principle,” he said.
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“Instead of scaremongering, Labour should be working with their own local authorities to ensure that the large amount of money available is spent helping people, particularly students, register to vote.”
An Electoral Commission spokesman said: “It has always been known that some areas with large student populations would initially see a fall in the number of students on their register and that extra effort would be needed to ensure as many as possible are on the register before the April 20 deadline.
Russell Williams, who is responsible for electoral registration at Ipswich Borough Council, said: “There is a new system in place and we will soon be sending a letter to properties in the Borough reminding people to register to vote. People can register in a few minutes at www.gov.uk/registertovote
While the University of Essex said it had been working closely with Colchester Borough Council and the Students’ Union to ensure students are not just made aware of their need to register to vote, but are actively helped to do so on campus.
A spokesman said that university had carried out a number of initiatives to encourage students to register to vote including having student ambassadors giving out information leaflets to new students during Welcome Week, publicising how to register to vote via the student e-newsletter Essex Spirit, supporting the national “Bite the Ballot” campaign and arranging activities around National Voter Registration Day on 5 February.
Chantel Le Carpentier, president of the student union at Essex, said students, among other groups, were disenfranchised and did not see how their vote made any difference to society.
“Since I’ve been at sixth form, we’ve had a government that no one voted for, who has not acted in the best interests of the majority of the country.
“At Essex, we’re saying that it just isn’t good enough. We’re certain that we will have another unrepresentative government in a few months if we do not unite and challenge. The University of Essex Students’ Union is committed to not only getting students registered to vote but to inspire students to use their democratic powers to have their say. We need to inform students about the issues and how politics works because it’s no longer going to be the case that politics is understood by only the few.”