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The MP for Morecambe recently brought the subject of student voting to the attention of MPs in Parliamentary discussions, suggesting that perhaps student populations should only vote in home local elections.
David Morris, elected to the seat for Morecambe and Lunesdale for the Conservative Party in the last year’s General Election, put forward an Early Day Motion (EDM) on December 15 which contained the idea that the current system whereby students can vote in elections at their place of study may not be the best method.
In the motion Morris said that he “believes that this short term population can often outvote[sic] the permanently settled communities”, and he “further believes that it is unfair for a community to be outvoted[sic] in this way and resolves that students with both permanent and term time addresses should be required to vote at their permanent address”.
A spokesman for Morris explained that the purpose of an EDM was purely to bring topics from constituencies to the attention of the House of Commons. “It’s purely a series of ideas that people have put down. It is purely a statement of belief, to highlight something and get discussion and debate going.”
“At this stage really it’s an idea that’s out there for people to discuss, to talk about and have a think about”, the spokesman said, confirming that it isn’t something that will have immediate consequences. He continued to explain that the EDM could become important at a later date if the system was ever looked at with a view to changing it: “At some point in the future it might be something that is voted on, maybe this will become part of that.”
The reasons for the EDM being made by Morris was explained further by his spokesman. The system currently allows students to vote at home and in their temporary residencies, and “some of the residents were saying that it was a little bit unfair that students who are only here for three years electing MPs who will serve much longer terms than that.”
Further to that, Morris’ spokesman said that the system fails the students too, saying there is often “confusion as to who can vote and when they can vote.” He went on to say “I’ll give you an example: Lancaster University, like all universities in this country, put all the students in halls on the polling register for local elections, including Serbians and Russians who can’t vote and end up confused.”
He also cited the fact that a lot of students don’t realise they can vote twice, for their home seat and the seat at their place of study. The idea of changing the voting system, he said, would clear up any confusion.
Morris’ spokesman summarised that the opinion of Morris’ office is that “the whole thing is a bit confusing and doesn’t work very well for the students or the residents.”
Student opinion on the matter appears to be unanimous that there should be the opportunity to have a vote wherever they live.
Second year student Harry Foulkes is among those who feel that even temporary residents should be allowed to vote in both places they live. He said: “Considering I spend most of the year in Lancaster anyway I think I have a right to vote in that election.” Foulkes continued to debunk the idea that his vote should be worth more at home than at university. “Just because I ‘live’ at ‘home’ in Wales doesn’t necessarily mean I have plans to live there when I finish uni, so I don’t really see why we should be made to vote somewhere else even though I live in Lancaster 30 out of 52 weeks.”
Third year student Jodie Waggoner believes that “as we live here for usually about three years and may continue to do so after we graduate, we should have an opportunity to have a say on what we would like for the community we are currently in.” Like Foulkes, Waggoner said that just being able to vote at home wouldn’t be fair. She reasoned that “I understand what the MP is saying but I think everyone should be offered the chance to vote.”
Morris’ spokesperson was keen to reinforce that EDMs and Parliamentary questions don’t commonly prompt consequences or action. “What we tend to do, when people write to us with ideas and questions, we put some of them forward as EDMs and parliamentary questions”.
He also commented that this practice applies to anything brought to Morris’ office, saying that “there’s no benchmark” of people needed before a constituent’s view is acted on by their MP. The EDM on voting was used as and example: the suggestion was made to Morris by two councillors, who had each had a number of people in their wards express views on the subject. Although the voting system is “not something that we [Morris’ office] get a huge postbag on” it was still acted upon in the interest of the local community.