One million missing from electoral register

Tonicha Upham 22 January 2015

Last week, Ed Miliband accused the Coalition of responsibility for the loss of nearly 1 million voters from the electoral register, with students forming a hard-hit demographic.

The Labour party claims that since the introduction of a new voter registration system, designed to prevent electoral fraud, 950,845 voters have disappeared from the electoral roll. Nick Clegg, who holds ministerial responsibility for the reforms, has been described by Miliband as delivering "the final insult" to young people.

Analysis of this data, which has come from 373 local authorities across England and Wales, shows that the highest reductions in those registered to vote are found in university towns and cities, with areas such as Cardiff and Liverpool being particularly affected.

The reforms require individual voter registration, making the previous block-registration of students in university accommodation and halls of residence impossible. However, the Liberal Democrats have responded to Labour's accusations with claims of 'scaremongering' and point scoring.

The cities most affected by the changes are areas which are being targeted by Labour in the hope of winning the student vote this May.

"There are no prizes for guessing why the Tories and Lib Dems have made it all the more difficult for students to register to vote,  Cambridge Universities Labour Club's Publicity Officer Rory Weal has said in response to the figures released last week. "Cambridge is an incredibly close seat where every vote counts – that's why starting this week CULC will be on lecture sites handing out leaflets with information about how to register."

Within the wider student population there have been mixed reactions to this alleged denial of the right to vote. First-year student Basha Wells Dion suggested that "This is a real problem for representation. 1 million missing votes could make a drastic change to the outcome of the election."

Others confirmed Ed Miliband's claims regarding the impact of the changes on students and new voters. One student said: "I just didn't realise we had to register; if I hadn't heard my friends talking about it then I might not have had access to my vote."

However, some students feel that apathy is more to blame for the current underrepresentation of students than electoral reform. Claudia Cornilessen reflected on this: "Being from a country where voting is compulsory, I’m surprised at the number of people who aren’t planning to vote… I’m especially surprised that so many students are deciding to forego their democratic rights."

According to the 2014 Which? University Student Survey, the University of Cambridge is one of the most political universities in Britain. However, CUSU's 'Campaigning Cambridge' event last week failed to attract high numbers of students, and Ed Miliband's claims add further weight to a growing picture of political apathy amongst students nationwide.