Miliband writes to the Electoral Commission about voter registration

16th January, 2015 1:29 pm

Ed Miliband today launched a drive register almost one million people who have fallen off the electoral register to vote in May.

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He highlighted that the Government’s Individual Voter Registration legislation has meant that many people – in particularly young people – are no longer registered to vote. A big part of this, he said, is due to the fact that block registration in places like university halls is no longer possible.

Consequently, as part of this drive, he’s written to all university Vice-Chancellors, Local Authority leaders and the Electoral Commission asking them to do something about this. He proposes a number of measures they can take, such as advertising registration drives, publicising National Voter Registration Day (5th February) and talking to letting agents so they can ensure students are aware of voter registration.

The deadline for voter registration in 20th April.

The full text of the letter:

Dear x

I am writing in regard to the representation of students and young people on the electoral register.

As you will know, the Government is introducing Individual Electoral Registration without the safeguards proposed in the original legislation.

As a result, students will no longer be able to be block registered by their halls of residence.

We have already seeing the dramatic effect this change has had on student registration, as well as young people living in rented accommodation. Figures released by local authorities show that one million voters have fallen off the register over the past 12 months, with a disproportionate drop-off in areas with a high student population. By the time of the General Election, many students and young people may find they are unable to vote.

This year’s election is an important moment for the future of our country and it is critical that the young people have their voice heard in this debate. Over the next few weeks and months, all of us must work together to ensure as many students as possible are registered to vote.

I am writing to you to strongly encourage your institution to do all it can to register students and young people to vote. Just some of the things that could be done include:

– Advertising registration drives through online networks (people can now register online).

– Inviting organisations such as Bite the Ballot onto the campuses to organise registration drives.

-Engaging with local letting agents of student tenants to ensure those living off campus are aware of the changes.

-Use National Voter Registration Day on 5th February as a hook for emphasising the need to register. 

– Writing a letter to your Electoral Registration Officer to ask for information, ward-by-ward, of rates of registration, to target areas with significant drop-off.

It is not too late to avoid widespread disenfranchisement amongst students and young people. But to ensure their voice is heard in 2015 and beyond, we must all spend time and effort ensuring as many are registered as possible.

Yours sincerely 

Ed Miliband MP

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  • Quiet_Sceptic

    I struggle with the logic of who this approach has been targeted at, I would have thought something aimed at Student Unions or Labour Students was more likely to deliver some results.

    • David Pickering

      This approach is targeted at the media. If Miliband really wanted to do something about voter registration, he would have done something in 2012 when he made the pledge to deal with it. I note the media is ignoring this fake issue.

      The more I see of Miliband, the more I think he’s just a con-man. Out to create outrage, whilst setting himself up as the solution to the outrage. Unfortunately, we all remember his performance whilst in the cabinet. Hardly inspiring.

  • Ian

    Is this really the most important issue of the day? Ed does seem to think writing letters is the answer to all his problems. First Cameron, now x, tomorrow, who knows? Santa? I can appreciate that after a few bad experiences he is wary of photo opportunities, but letter writing isn’t really going to cut the mustard. COME ON Labour, get your act together!

    • Harry Barnes

      The loss of a million registrations caused by the introduction of individual voter registration is something that is new. Yet on top of this, the electoral commission have recorded that another seven million people had already failed to register. This is added to by the fact that (apart from in the Scottish Referendum) wide numbers of those people who are registered, now fail to vote. Are these not massive and serious problems about the functioning of democracy? Campaigning to tackle problems about voter engagement is crucial. Well done Ed.

      • Ian

        Many people don’t vote because they are fed up with the cynical nature of British politics. Running a registration campaign a few weeks before an election looks cynical to say the least, so perhaps unlikely to help. Why does Ed think that the disillusioned are likely to vote Labour anyway. By definition far more likely to vote Green or UKIP, so why are we helping our opponents?

        • Harry Barnes

          There should be a general push in favour of electoral registratiion by the electoral commission, electoral registration officers and Parliament/ the Government.The latter using avenues such as media advertising to encourage registration. Other bodies such as the BBC should get into the act. Organisations such as “Bite the Ballot” who encourage young people to register and vote need support and encouragement. Any democrat should be pushimg for electoral engagement – including any politician who claims to be a democrat. Politicians and political activists who don’t understand why we have a franchise, can start with a study of Chartism and the Suffragettes. A key consideration in voting should be which candidate and/or party leader is most likely to further and advance democratic principles. Ed Miliband is winning on points at the moment. We need a leader who has some principles.

          • Ian

            I always thought Registration was compulsory under threat of a £100 fine. Has this changed?

          • Harry Barnes

            Unfortunately, this power does not work effectively and is hardly ever enforced. The percentage of electoral registration figures compared with those who are entitled to register, differs widely in different areas. Some returning officers are much better than others. Then some operate in highly problematic avenues, such as those in which much of the population is highly mobile and difficult to trace. Since 2001, people who move home can quickly move their electoral registration and don’t have to wait for the following year’s register to be complied. But only 14% of those who move make use of this facility. So numbers of voters are on the wrong registers. We get TV adverts to tell people they can move their registration for their TV licenses, but there is no equivalent about their need to move their electoral registration details. The extent of this shortfall in registration differs widely from area to area. The more deprived areas have the worst registration figures and this then effects the drawing of constituency boundaries. There are, therefore, less seats for deprived areas than there should be. It is those who used to be Labour’s traditional supporters, who mainly loose out – the working class. So even if we move electoral registration into the digital age, they will still miss out. We need persistent canvassing, persistent advertising, enforced fines for not registering (it works easy enough over the non-payment of parking fees) and a politics that is seen as being relevant to people’s lives. Something worked during the Scottish Referendum, both in registering and voter turn out. Ed should know all these things, he has a handful of MPs who have contact with him who seem to understand the situation.

          • PeterBarnard

            Good post, Harry, and (indirectly) you make a very valid point that constituencies should be drawn up on the basis of actual population.

            I can’t speak for everyone in Cheshire West & Chester, but I was somewhat surprised to receive a visit on a Sunday afternoon last year (September or October) from two people from CW & C, checking up re the electoral register (my wife and I had registered on-line).

            Here in Chester, we have students, as is the case in many other towns and cities. I would not have thought that it was beyond the capabilities of any ERO, and his (her) staff, to have “registration days” on university and college premises.

          • Harry Barnes

            I have somehow just lost a long reply I was making. I will now settle for saying that (a) it is good to see that the Chester Electoral Returning Office seems to be making a sound use of canvassers (it is the best way to improve registration figures), (b) your technique can also be used in schools, especially if the voting age is reduced to 16 and (c) there are at least a few MPs who take a serious interest in such matters. The best is Labour’s Chris Ruane. He serves on the Political and Constitution Reform Select Committee who are currently looking into the issue of Voter Engagement. This Committee is chaired by Graham Allen (Labour), who also has a keen interest in such matters. But the Committee has a Coalition majority at the moment. There is also an All Party group on Electoral Registration. Unfortuneately, from at least the time of the Poll Tax many Tories have sort to undermine electoral registration, by neutral sounding techniques. It is now the young, the mobile, the poor and ethnic minorities who miss out the most on their registration rights.

          • Ian

            Thank you for an interesting and informative post, Harry.

            I can’t help but feel that it is the ” politics that is seen as being relevant to people’s lives” bit which may be difficult.

          • MonkeyBot5000

            It’s actually a £1000 fine.

            However, failing to fill in the form is not “refusing to register”.

          • Ian

            WOW! Didn’t know that. Quite serious, but if it is never enforced then it hardly matters. I’ve never heard of it being enforced, do you know of an instance?

            Of course even in countries where voting is compulsory (like Belgium) they only have around 90% turnout, presumably due to inaccurate registers.

          • MonkeyBot5000

            I don’t think anyone collates the data nationally, but the last figures I heard were pretty low. A few hundred cases per year out of tens of millions of people.

            I had a guy from the council come round to my house after I failed to return three different forms they had sent me. I politely explained that I don’t respond to threats and then gave him my details. I never heard any more about it.

          • Harry Barnes

            In past a parliamentary answer, the numbers of prosecutions were said to be – 2008 (183), 2009 (67), 2010 (144). Democratic Audit claim that the numbers have been falling since 2007, but don’t give any details. People in numbers of areas are now being threatened with £80 fines for non-registation – as are people who spit in the street in London. The £80 fine for non-registration is also covered on a fairly recent government web-site. So a fresh regulation may have been issued since that about level 3 payments of up to a £1,000; which may relate now to more specific refusals to register.

          • MonkeyBot5000

            The £1000 figure was from the last time I got sent a registration form and that was some time ago.

          • Harry Barnes

            If any person fails to comply to registration requests or gives false information they will be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale (currently £1,000). Although it is not often done,some local authorities do prosecute householders who do not return the canvass forms. Most EROs make it clear on the canvass form that the householder is required by law to provide the information requested on the form.

  • Tim Carter

    Without wanting to criticise we shouldn’t be in this position. The Party has never taken voter registration seriously enough and what on earth happened to Ed’s voter registration initiative announce in 2012 (I really thought he was being serious)

    • Ian

      Trouble is, if he’s not serious about this which other initiatives were also just soundbite material?

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