Whitehaven News column – 24th July 2014

No Vote, No Voice
Last month, in England and Wales, Individual Electoral Registration came in to force. Whereas in the past, one person in each household could ensure that all those living at the address were registered to vote in elections, now, each individual will have to provide their own ‘identifying information’ such as their date of birth and National Insurance number, in order to be added to the electoral register and therefore be eligible to vote.
This new form of voter registration is intended to tackle electoral fraud, but the change has the potential for a significant unintended consequence: the disenfranchisement of thousands of people not engaged with politics at present. If you don’t register to vote, you can’t cast your ballot, and if you don’t cast your ballot, your voice will not be heard. If your voice isn’t heard, the Government won’t listen
In the age of social media and online campaigns, political engagement comes in many shapes and sizes, but there is nothing more direct and concrete than voting. No matter how many campaigns are launched, petitions are signed and marches are marched, once a Government has been elected, they are there until they are voted out by the people.
We have seen recently that communities in Copeland are politically active and have a deep desire to improve our area.  Yet, even so, engagement with the political process is declining. Turnout at the last General Election in Copeland was 67.6%.  This is compared with 83.5% in 1992.  Even in the referendum on the elected mayor, just 1 in 3 people expressed their preference at the ballot box.
The danger in ever declining turnouts is that those who don’t vote, don’t have a voice. When Government devises policy or targets a tax-cut or spending commitment, who will get priority? It will be the people who vote often. Just 44% of under 25s voted in 2010, and the Government went on to treble tuition fees, cut the Future Jobs Fund, slash spending on career’s advice and scrap Educational Maintenance Allowance. The correlation is clear.
While Individual Electoral Registration presents a challenge, it also provides an opportunity. Yes, it will be difficult to ensure all those currently registered remain so, even if they have never had to complete the registration form, but now there are other ways to register. You don’t have to wait for the letter to come through the post each autumn. You can register online and the process takes less than 5 minutes.
Don’t get caught out by the rule changes. It is vital that you get signed up and ensure that you can exercise your right to vote.  If you turn up on election day and you aren’t registered, you will be turned away from the polling station, so make sure that you register in good time.
It is estimated that across the country as many as 10 million people could fall off the electoral register as a result of these changes. Don’t let that be you. In the time it takes to make a cup of tea, you can make your sure your voice will be heard.
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