Fact Check: Does Lancaster University Illegally Register Students to Vote?

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Tom Newton Dunn, the Political Editor of The Sun, has claimed that Lancaster University illegally registers students to vote without their consent. SCAN finds this claim to be untrue.

The Claim

In an article on The Sun website, Mr Newton Dunn wrote: “Multiple reports were made to The Sun today by concerned parents. They said their offspring had been sent polling cards out of the blue at their addresses in university towns all over England, despite never requesting to vote there. They included Lancaster, Nottingham and Hendon in North London – each the location of close marginal fights between Labour and the Tories.”

The Facts

Since 2016, Lancaster University has implemented what is known as the “Sheffield model” of voter registration. Simply put, the University has a page during course registration or re-registration where you can opt-in to registering to vote at the same time. The Lancaster model has meant that far more students are registered to vote in the city than before. For instance, it was reported in January 2015 that only 22 students living on campus were registered to vote at the time.

The Lancaster model has been successfully used in the following elections prior to 12 December: the 2016 City Council by-election, the 2017 County Council election, the 2017 general election, the 2018 City Council by-elections, and the 2019 City Council election.

Students at Lancaster University who have received a poll card in the post will have either opted-in to voter registration online, during course registration, or will have registered to vote through traditional means, such as through www.gov.uk/register-to-vote. Hence, the claim by Mr Newton Dunn is untrue.

Image courtesy of Lancaster University

A Lancaster University spokesperson told SCAN:

Lancaster University students currently listed on the electoral register will have made an application either through the usual channels or online as part of the annual pre-registration process with the University. Potential student voters are not added to the proposed list for inclusion into the electoral register by the University without their explicit consent. Students must take proactive action to join the electoral register in this way and this is an ‘opt in’ process.

The concluding screen of the pre-registration process indicates that students are affirming that ‘To the best of my knowledge the information provided in the voter registration section of online registration is true. I understand that this information will be passed to the Electoral Services Team at Lancaster City Council to compile the electoral register. Eligibility to register is determined by the Electoral Services Team’.

In a tweet replying to Tom Newton Dunn’s claim, the Electoral Commission said:

We’re not aware of people being added to the electoral register without their consent anywhere else in the UK. We’ve been in contact with the electoral services teams in Barnet and Lancaster who have told us that no voters have been added to the register without their consent.

A spokesperson for Lancaster City Council said:

We are aware of reports that some Lancaster University students claim they have been registered to vote without their knowledge. We can assure people that this is not the case – any students on our register must have made an application.

In some cases this will have been during the university’s student registration process, part of which asks them if they would like to register to vote. If they consent to doing so, they then have to provide specific information such as their date of birth and National Insurance number before the process moves forward.

Should they choose not to register at this point they are sent an Invitation to Register form, which they have to return with the information we need to process the application.

Andrew Williams

News Editor 19/20.

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