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“Labour attacks missing voters scandal.” “Only 22 students on campus are registered to vote.” Headlines like that, on the face of it, are particularly worrying for the upcoming general election. However, the issue about the so-called “missing voters” not being able to cast their choice in May is much more complicated than this.
Whilst Labour has expressed outrage at the lack of young people who have registered to vote, the complications about the new registration system are off-putting, particularly for those who only have the vaguest interest in politics anyway. For a start, because most students have two addresses, there is the complicated matter of registering to vote at only one address. Though our campus may only have 22 students registered to vote, this does not mean that these students are not registered to vote at their home address. In fact, my entire family at my home address each received an individual letter, detailing that despite the new electoral registration system, no further action was required to be able to vote. So, I may not be one of the 22 students who can vote in Lancaster, but I can certainly use my postal vote in Wigan.
The bigger problem is, of course, actually getting young people to both register and use their vote wisely for the upcoming general election. It’s safe to say that many young people reacted strongly to the Liberal Democrats’ decision to go back on their tuition fee promise, and it’s even easier to say that the majority of young people – students in particular – will not be voting for said party. However, the issue is that so many just simply won’t vote for anyone at all.
Perhaps our voting system needs something of a rethink. Although self-registering is a way of only getting votes from voters who actually want to use this right, at the moment it looks like this new system will result in a significant drop in voter turnout. In Australia, it is illegal not to vote, but I can’t see how implementing something like that here could improve the situation; if anything, it would only encourage apathetic voters to vote for a protest party, and I certainly don’t want UKIP to gain power (even if Al Murray manages to oust Nigel Farage from the leadership).
The real gap when it comes to getting young people to vote is making them – and everyone else, for that matter – aware of what they’re actually voting for. Every single voter should be given a copy of each candidate’s manifesto, and everyone should actually read them before casting a vote. Time and time again voters use their vote for a party whose views they may in fact disagree with, and then complain when we get situations like the 2010 elections during which a coalition was formed with the Liberal Democrats whom relatively few had voted for. Getting students to register to vote is only half the problem. Getting students to make an informed vote is the even bigger challenge.
LUSU will inevitably make a big push to encourage students to vote before the general election, and rightly so. Students really do have the opportunity to swing the general elections in May. Registering to vote is relatively painless online, and if we make an informed choice we will be better off for it. Don’t be drawn into to not voting for a particular party because of its leader; truly think about the issues that will affect you, and how the candidates are going to address them. The general elections look set to be a hotly fought contest. Don’t miss out by not registering to vote.