The drop in attainers on the electoral roll should worry us all

Posted on the 17th May 2017

With a week to go before the cut off for registering to vote for the general election on June 8th, our research has shown that the proportion of school leavers on the electoral roll dropped by over a quarter between 2013 and 2016. Why does it matter that? Most of those school leavers are now 18 or over, and would have been eligible to vote in this election.

In the UK you can go on the electoral roll as an ‘attainer’ at 16; by registering in advance it means that you are already on the electoral roll when you turn 18. But a fall in the number of attainers means that the flow of young voters into our democracy is slowing down.

It’s not too late, we need the biggest ever push to register young people who may have fallen off the electoral roll. Registering only takes 5 minutes and can be done online at https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

The figures cover the time when Individual Electoral Registration (IER) was introduced in 2014 – which saw a shift from a single person (usually a parent or lead tenant) registering everyone in the household on their behalf, to each voter having to register individually.

While the move to IER has improved the accuracy of the register, it has seen a significant fall in the number of young people on the electoral roll. Universities used to be able to register students automatically, flatmates could complete the form to sign everyone up and parents could register their whole household in one go.

All the evidence shows that voting is habitual – if you start young, you’ll vote for life. Registering young people is about more than making politicians listen to young people today, it’s about keeping politicians listening to them as they grow older. More 18 year olds voting today means more 28 year olds voting in ten years time and more 38 year olds voting in twenty years time.

But our findings suggest not enough is being done to ensure Britain’s young people are on the electoral roll.

Of the nations which introduced IER in 2014, Scotland has seen the biggest drop in the number of ‘attainers’, at 35%, followed by Wales (27%) and England (25%).

Many of the areas which have seen the biggest drop have large black & minority ethnic communities – such as Hackney and Bethnal Green and Bow in London – suggesting school leavers from already marginalised groups have not re-registered since parents/guardians stopped signing them up.

With just a few days to go to register in time for the General Election, it’s vital that the new generation of potential voters – people who may have fallen off the electoral roll since the registration system was changed – sign up before it’s too late. We need a registration revolution in this country – including giving dedicated time in schools for pupils to enrol and reviewing the ban on universities signing up students automatically.

Fixing our registration system is about more than making it easier for attainers to join the register though. With nearly seven million people not on the electoral roll or incorrectly registered, we need moves towards opt-out automatic registration and give people the chance to sign up when getting pensions, driving licenses or paying their council tax. Being able to register to vote whenever you interact with the government would go a long way to averting a looming registration disaster.

Whether it’s improving citizenship education, or trialling same-day registration, there is plenty that can be done to revitalise our democratic processes. Whatever the case, we need action – or we risk losing a whole generation of voters.

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