Democracy SOS - stop the electoral register cull

Hastily imposed changes to the electoral registration system means millions of people face being removed from the political process. We must not let that happen.

Alison Whyte
23 October 2015


, CC BY-ND 2.0

On October 24, a nationwide voter registration campaign will be launched by Momentum, the movement born out of the surge in support for Jeremy Corbyn.

The campaign – Democracy SOS – will kick off with a day of action, with organisers engaging people in university campuses and town centres, handing out information about the importance of voting and how to register.

They say there is a serious risk that one in every five people in the UK could drop off the electoral register and be disenfranchised on December 1, missing out on a raft of crucial elections in 2016. 

Previously, under the ‘head of household’ system, one person in each house could register anyone at that address who was eligible to vote, and universities could register students by their halls of residence. This is no longer the case. Now every student has to register individually, not always a priority for students who are under so many other pressures.

The transition to the Individual Electoral Registration (IER) was rolled out in England and Wales in June 2014 and in Scotland three months later – a year earlier than the date recommended by the Electoral Commission. The process of transferring names is overly bureaucratic and many local councils are struggling to keep up.

According to the Electoral Commission there are 1.9 million people on the household register who are not registered as individuals. Another eight million people are not on the register at all.

So who are the missing millions?

They are overwhelmingly young (only 25% of 17-year-olds are currently on the electoral register) and many are students. Also disproportionately affected are people in rented or short-stay accommodation and people for whom English is a second language.

New boundaries for parliamentary constituencies will be drawn up next year, based on the electoral register as it stands on December 1st 2015. So the new boundaries will reflect the numbers on the register rather than the actual population in each area. With large numbers of missing people in poorer, mainly Labour areas, the redrawn boundaries are set to favour the Conservatives.

London and other cities with large numbers of people in rented accommodation will be disproportionately affected. The Electoral Reform Society has warned that the change could result in people living in poorer areas being underrepresented. Many commentators have concluded that this is a deliberate act on the part of the government to disenfranchise Labour voters and to keep themselves in power for decades.

In his speech to the Labour party conference, Jeremy Corbyn said that the government’s aim is to ‘gerrymander electoral boundaries across the country’ starting with the London mayoral election next year.

Labour estimates that at least a million people have fallen off the voters’ register in the last year alone. So unless they enrol between now and December 1, many  young people, students, people living in poverty, new immigrants and those in temporary accommodation will simply be airbrushed out of the political process. 

What is Momentum?

Currently run by a group of enthusiastic young volunteers, Momentum is about keeping alive the positive spirit that bubbled up during the Labour leadership campaign. Its aim is to ‘create a mass movement for progressive change in every town, city and village’. 

Momentum works alongside, but is independent of, the Labour party. For Democracy SOS, it has teamed up with many constituency Labour parties and has support from the TSSA (Transport and Salaried Staffs’ Association).

One of the organisers, Emma Rees, says, “Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign for Labour leader put forward a new kind of politics, a politics that engaged with those shut out from the political system, promising more participatory democracy. Claiming your right to vote is a major step in politicisation, to further action at community and national level.”

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