Do you think you can vote?

Max Wagner 2 February 2015

I went on a Free Education protest last term with a sign saying ‘Votes For 16 Year Olds,’ I was told it was an odd sign, yet it struck an important point about political participation. So few young people take part in electing the government; just 44% of 18-24 year olds voted in the last general election, and as only 50% registered, the real turnout was 22%. I didn’t know that at the time – I only saw one half of my peers pushing over barriers to occupy Parliament Square and the other half looking on unsure of what to do.

When I got home, I started researching. While some countries register their citizens automatically (Israel, Chile and Denmark to name a few) in the UK it is the individual’s responsibility. Many don’t register; about 8.6 million at the last count, or 15.7% of eligible voters. One of the reasons for this is ignorance: many simply don’t know how to register, or even that it is a requirement. In fact, since the introduction of individual voter registration this June, the Labour Party estimates the electoral roll has decreased by 970,000 names. This is in part at least because new voters don’t know that the head of the household can no longer enrol them.

Commonwealth citizens also face a registration deficit. Only 61.8% registered with their local government authorities by this time last year, despite being able to vote in general elections. Indeed, if you are from a Commonwealth country or Ireland, Malta and Cyprus and have an address and a visa (student visas count) you are eligible to vote. The latest count put this at between 1 and 1.5 million people, with 345,000 Irish, 306,000 Indians and 180,000 Pakistani citizens making up the rump of that number.

Length of residence also impedes registration. There is only a 40.1% likelihood of registration for those who have been living in their home for a year or less. The Electoral Commission says that ‘this is because the electoral register is a property-based database’. The more often you move, the more difficult it is to match you to an address. Trying to register on the day is the most prominent mistake (12 working days before the election is the deadline). To add to that, BME and youth registration and turnout are disappointingly low.

My friends and I sat down and pondered what we could do to help. We came up with ‘Do You Think You Can Vote?’ It is a non-partisan campaign to register as many people as possible and encourage them to vote. I believe in the power of the young vote – there were 10 constituencies last election with a majority of 194 votes or fewer. Our votes can matter. By doing this I feel somehow like I am making things fairer, that the more people we register, the more the scales tip ever so slightly towards a truly representative parliament.

You’ll probably see us around campus over the next few months, with bright t-shirts and Mean Girls inspired placards (‘Stop trying to make not voting happen, it’s not going to happen’). If you want to join us, you will be more than welcome, just send an email to nk437@cam.ac.uk if you want to be on our mailing list. Apart from that of course, please don’t forgot to vote.

P.S. Do it. https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote