Posted on Fri 17 Mar 2017 at 11:30 by Callum Aldcroft
Automatic Voter Registration – fighting to get the student voice heard
On Wednesday, I visited Parliament and had the chance to chat to MPs about something I’ve been working on all year at Leeds.
I’ve successfully lobbied the University and Leeds City Council to work together to make voter registration an integral part of the online enrolment process – something every student has to do at the start of every year.
If this new process works as well at Leeds as it did at Sheffield, where it was first trialled, what seems like a fairly bureaucratic change could mean that an additional 8,000 students would be registered to vote who otherwise would’ve forgotten, done it at the wrong address or not bothered to do so.
This year’s Exec took office at a time of national crisis. The week we started work, the UK (or at least some of it…) voted to leave the European Union. It was a result which was followed by a huge rise in hate crimes, a huge rise in almost any bigoted –ism and –phobia you can think of, a huge crash in the value of the pound in your pocket and a huge fall from grace for us on the world stage.
64% of young people turned out to vote on June 23rd, but 90% of over-65s did. 75% of our generation voted for the European Union, but 61% of the older generation jumped at the chance to drag us out.
Registering to vote isn’t the be all and end all of democracy. It’s not a silver bullet, but how can we be expected to engage with politics, if we fall at the first hurdle because we forgot to register to vote, or registered to vote at your address back home?
Since my first day at LUU, I’ve been arguing that the University and the Council need to be doing more to get students engaged. Brexit means more harm than good for our University, yet the University did hardly anything to engage students in the process, no matter which way any of us planned to vote.
I got the chance to chat to Labour MPs about an amendment to the Higher Education bill that was passed by the House of Lords last week which would make this process compulsory for all universities, meaning hundreds of thousands more students being on the electoral register. The amendment still needs to pass through the House of Commons to become law and Labour MPs have been very supportive. Here in Leeds, I’ve been working closely with Hilary Benn on this. Should it pass, Leeds will be ahead of the game.
This follows changes that David Cameron’s government made at the end of 2015, banning universities from registering students to vote en masse. It’s thought that this move wiped as many as 800,000 people across the country off the electoral register (and not just students either!).
This was ahead of recent changes to constituencies and local ward boundaries which will come into effect in 2018. This move to disenfranchise people will mean that students across Leeds will see their representation on Leeds City Council reduced by about 50%, with the current Hyde Park & Woodhouse and Headingley wards essentially being merged into one big student-heavy ward. 6 councillors for our area, cut down to 3.
Work is still ongoing between myself, Student Operations at the University and Electoral Services at Leeds City Council to sort out the finer details of the process, but registering to vote at enrolment will hopefully be in place for September. In the meantime, you can register to vote here.