Stephen Lambert, Director of Education4Democracy.

ON the day the Prime Minister called a general election last month 350,000 people registered to vote on line. Yet it's estimated that up to 9 million people across the UK are still 'missing' from the official electoral register.

In the North East a staggering 239,000 aren't registered to vote including young people, students, minorities, the homeless, adults with learning, mental or physical disabilities, private renters and low-income households.

Unless drastic action is taken the figure could be much higher, which would be harmful to our representative democracy.

It's suggested by the independent Electoral Commission that thousands have simply vanished from the electoral register, partly due to ill-thought out an rushed government reforms making it compulsory for individual to register.

The current system has the potential to disenfranchise the student population of Tyneside, Wearside and Durham. For some experts, the most troubling trend is the drop by up to 40 per cent in the number of "attainers" - teenagers at college or sixth form who are meant to join the register prior to voting age. According to Rachel Farringdon of the campaign group, Voting Counts, a generation is in danger of missing its first taste of democratic participation, and perhaps never acquiring the habit of voting.

This December's general election could have a major influence on your adults aged 18 to 24. The outcome could impact on Brexit, job prospects, climate change, pay, rents, university fees and crucially finding somewhere affordable to live.

Council officials across the region's town halls are doing their best to get the missing thousands to register.

Newcastle Council is undertaking a broad range of measures to encourage "voter registration" including:

  • The link to the Government's Register to Vote website is now a the top of the homepage of the authority's website;
  • Contact has been made to all overseas voters twice to remind them to retain their voter registration details up to date and to offer them a 'proxy vote';
  • An ongoing social media campaign via Facebook and Twitter focusing on student registration;
  • Conducting a mapping exercise across the council and partners like YHN to identity where there's contact with residents and bring in steps to encourage and automate voter registration;
  • Holding a  workshop for councillors in the coming fortnight to get new ideas about encouraging voter registration.

In the long-term more needs to be done to maintain our democratic way of life and ensure that our "political culture" is durable. Sheffield University has been successful by integrating voter registration into the enrolment process and during 'freshers' week. More Vice-Chancellors and further education college Principals should adopt this model.

Other measures central government could embrace to boost electoral registration include a statutory duty on school sixth forms and colleges to provide details of young people approaching 17 or 18 to all council registration officers.

Local politicians from all the main parties should be to encourage to engage and empower groups of post-16 learners in the next two weeks about the nature, value and significance of voting. Both the city's Sheriff Habib Rhaman and myself have addressed many young people over the past two years on this very theme - done in an impartial and interactive way. It works. Young people are interested. They participate. Ask questions. And they learn too.

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Higher Education institutions could be advised to register blocks of students in halls of residence. Pilot election-day registrations could form part of school citizenship or British Values sessions.

Young people and other marginalised groups such as adults with learning disabilities, those with mental health issues and migrants with citizenship status shouldn't be denied  a say in the forthcoming first order general election which will determine their future.

That's why youth clubs, schools, colleges, youth movements like the Scouts and guides, need to work in partnership with local councils and central government to register the ''missing millions''. Above all national government needs to lead  bold and innovative recruitment drive to fill the electoral register. To do otherwise would be a betrayal of the younger generation.

Stephen Lambert, Executive director, Education4Democracy CIC.

Stephen is a Newcastle City Councillor and Educational Practitioner. He writes in a personal capacity.

Copyright © 2019 FE News

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