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The New Political Agenda: Registration, Registration, Registration

Posted by Kristina Murkett in

Students: are you registered to vote in next year's general election? Answer: you probably have no idea. Changes to the registration system mean that thousands of students may miss out on the chance to vote, and the results could not only be undemocratic, but worryingly decisive.

Nick Hillman of the Higher Education estimates that 'there are 12 seats at the next general election which could be decided by the student population. With the next election looking like it will be very close, 12 seats could decide who makes up the next government.' Never have student politics had so much power, and so little idea.

So what's changed? Students must now register themselves as individual voters, rather than being registered by the 'head of the household' (i.e. their parents) or en masse by the university - a procedure that previously guaranteed almost 100% registration. 87% of existing voters have been automatically transferred, but students are at the highest risk of falling into the 13% who have not.

To give some context of the scale of the problem, or what the 'Bite the Ballot' campaign are describing as a 'crisis', the BBC polled 21 areas with high student populations, such as Chester">ManChester, Birmingham, Newcastle and Southampton. In total, registered voters, who numbered nearly 4.49 million in 2012, had dropped by 9,727 in 2013; but in 2014 they dropped by - wait for it - 181,552, which is nineteen times the drop-off the previous year. In one of these towns, Oxford, registrations in some wards with large amounts of student residents fell by 60%.

So what needs to be done? The registration process is online and apparently only takes a matter of minutes, so the problem lies in marketing rather than methodology. Whilst all is not lost - the registration deadline is April 20th - local authority election registration officers, the Electoral Commission, and universities should be being more proactive in informing students of the changes.

The Electoral Commission insists it is launching a public awareness campaign from March onwards, but this seems too little too late given that students are famous for two things: fancy dress pub crawls, and procrastination. There needs to be a targeted campaign which explicitly addresses the unique position students are in, and successfully grabs their attention given that students are exposed to (literally) thousands of adverts a day - and may have little storage space in between Biochemistry and Buzzfeed.

Image courtesy of Flickr, Creative Commons