Social media bid to boost enrolment


Published: Thursday 5th February 2015 by The News Editor

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The UK faces a “crisis of democratic engagement”, MPs warned as a watchdog launched a massive social media drive to encourage people to register to vote in time for May’s general election.

Around 7.5 million people are missing from national registers and efforts are being stepped up to get as many enrolled as possible before the April 20 deadline.

To mark what has been designated National Voter Registration Day, the Electoral Commission has arranged for a reminder to appear on the Facebook page of every UK user of the social network.

It follows the Commission’s discovery – through polling by YouGov – that four in 10 people, and more than half (53%) of 18 to 24-year-olds, remain unaware that they can register to vote online.

The Government said a quarter of a £10 million fund announced in January to help the push would go to organisations working with the most under-represented groups , including students and black and minority ethnic communities.

Cabinet Office minister Sam Gyimah also announced a campaign to encourage registration among people who are eligible to vote in the UK but who live abroad, and among armed forces personnel.

A Commons committee used the focus to renew its demands that government consider radical reforms to boost engagement and election turnout, including online voting, weekend elections, polling-day registration and a “none of the above” option.

At the 2010 general election, 16 million eligible voters – 34.9% of the electorate did not take part – more than voted for any one party.

Graham Allen MP, chair of the Commons political and constitutional reform c ommittee, said: ” This is not an acceptable state of affairs for a modern democracy.

“If we do not take urgent action to make elections more accessible to the public and convince them that it is worth voting we will be facing a crisis of democratic engagement.

“The fact that almost 85% of people turned out for the recent referendum on Scottish independence shows that people will turn out if they care about an issue and believe they can make a difference.

“This lesson needs to be learnt and applied to all other elections.”

The report also called for a fresh public debate about moving away from the first-past-the-post voting system – only four years after a switch to the more proportional Alternative Vote was roundly rejected by the public in a referendum.

Labour said that in some English cities, the numbers of first-time voters being added to the electoral register had fallen by more than 90% since last year.

The party said that in Plymouth the fall was 98%, while there had been drops of 95% in Norwich and Nottingham and 90% in Manchester.

In an article for The Independent, Labour leader Ed Miliband blamed the Government for the way in which it had moved to the new system of individual voter registration.

“Even on the most optimistic estimate, the changes this Government has forced through will mean that when young people turn 18, less than half of them are likely to be registered,” he said.

“This is not just a scandal, it is a disaster for our democracy.”

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “Now 16-year-olds have to register themselves to vote, rather than being added on to the register by the ‘head of household’.

“Over one million 16-24-year-olds have registered since the new system was introduced, and everyone else is being contacted directly and encouraged to use the new convenient online registration system. We’re also providing over £14 million of funding to support the costs of activities at a local and national level to maximise the number of people on the register.

“We encourage everyone that is eligible to vote in this May’s general election to make sure their name is on the electoral roll so they don’t miss their chance.”

Groups benefiting from the Cabinet Office cash are:

:: British Youth Council – £80,000

:: Citizens Advice – £50,000

:: Citizens UK – £50,000

:: Homeless Link – £100,000

:: Mencap – £80,000

:: Operation Black Vote – £85,000

:: UK Youth – £90,000

Published: Thursday 5th February 2015 by The News Editor

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