Good news on the registration deadline – now let’s fix the system

Josiah Mortimer, former Head of Communications

Posted on the 9th June 2016

Yesterday, we won a small but significant victory.      

After a technical error shut down the voter registration website just before the midnight deadline on Tuesday, around 50,000 people were denied the ability to sign up to vote.

On Wednesday morning, we called for the government to extend the deadline for at least another 24 hours, starting a joint petition with Hope Not Hate – and we saw broad cross-party support.

Just as we no longer turn people away queuing for polling stations during elections, we shouldn’t turn people away from registering just because of an online glitch. Over 1.5m people applied to register this past week, and 525,000 on the final day alone. What everyone recognised on Tuesday was that this huge enthusiasm to take part shouldn’t be cast aside because of an arbitrary, accidentally short cut off point.

The encouraging signs came yesterday during and after Prime Minister’s Questions, when David Cameron and Cabinet Minister Matthew Hancock said people should continue to keep registering, despite the deadline passing.

But while the government’s decision is encouraging, and it’s positive that so many have been keen to engage with this crucial vote, we need a much more systematic approachto ensuring people have a voice in their democracy. Every election we see a huge rush to register, but many still slip through the net. We need to see reforms to make it easier to register.

Firstly, we need a huge push among young people. Roughly 3 million of the 7.5m ‘missing millions’ are from the 18 to 30 age group. This compares to the half a million of 55-64s thought to be missing – a much lower, but still clearly troubling, statistic.

We want to see the ability to register at every level they interact with government – e.g. applying for a driving license or pension. There’s lots of best practice, but this kind of ‘Motor Voting’ (recently introduced in Oregon) would be a good start, alongside registration drives in schools and colleges and the ability for people to check their registration status online – many think they’re registered when they’re not. Around 15% of the population aren’t on the register when they should be – a huge democratic gap that needs closing, and we need innovative ideas to do so.

The recent ‘Missing Millions’ report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Democratic Engagement has some great, practical recommendations on how we can boost registration in this country in a systematic way – instead of an erratic annual rush to register before the deadline.

Either way, it’s so important to register to vote – this referendum will have an impact that will last for generations. The EU vote is one of the most important decisions this country has faced for decades and every vote really will count – particularly as it looks like it will be on a knife edge.

We’re really pleased the government listened to ourselves and other democracy organisations on this. Now let’s get started on the ‘what’s next’ in both ensuring this mess-up doesn’t happen again, and so that we can have the most complete and accurate register possible. Democracy is too important to be left to chance.

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