Although the next elections are 6 months away, voter registration is back in the headlines and with good reason. Changes introduced in 2014 to prevent voter fraud are being used by the Tories to prevent Labour from ever getting into power again, and we have until 1st December to stop them.
For decades, everyone living under the same roof could be registered to vote by just one of them acting as the 'head of the household'. It was quick and simple, but it wasn't necessarily a robust system. Individual Electoral Registration was introduced in 2014 to eliminate voter fraud, and it means that each person must now register individually by giving their date of birth and their National Insurance number on the application form to verify their identity.
The Electoral Commission recommended that full transition to the new system should be done by December 2016, and the Coalition Government agreed with that. Then the Tories won the General Election, and they saw a fresh opportunity to change the political landscape forever. In mid-July, they decided to bring forward the date for full transition to the new system to December 2015.
Why does that matter? After all, we still have 6 months until the next elections.
For one, it means that people not registered under the new system will find it more difficult to register to vote in time for the elections in May 2016. An estimated 1 million people will disappear from the Electoral Roll overnight on 1st December 2015, which is hardly good for democracy generally.
However, there is an underhand aspect to all of this. The Electoral Roll as of 1st December 2015 will be used to reshape Parliamentary boundaries. The Government is looking to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600, and the boundaries for each constituency will be made as equal as possible. The number of people registered to vote as of 1st December 2015 will be the basis of this equalisation.
Again, why does it matter? Surely every constituency will have the same number of people not registered to vote?
Wrong. The people who are less likely to be registered under the new system are students, young professionals, ethnic minorities, and vulnerable people who have to move home frequently. In other words, 'generation rent'. In London, 400,000 votes will drop off the register come 1st December. That's in addition to the 1.2 million who are not registered in the capital and are eligible to vote. In Cambridge, 18% of voters will disappear. In Hackney, a staggering 23% of people will drop off the Electoral Roll.
All of the areas worst affected are represented by Labour MPs, and the long term impact will be fewer Labour MPs in Parliament with bigger sized constituencies than their Conservative counterparts. To put it bluntly, any reduction in the number of Labour MPs will help the Conservatives stay in power for longer as it will become more difficult for Labour to win in a general election.
The Tories know exactly what they are doing by fully enforcing Individual Electoral Registration 12 months sooner than recommended. It is gerrymandering, and we have very little time to put things right.
So what can we do?
First, check that you and everyone you live with is registered to vote. Have a quick chat with them when they get home.
Next, make sure that your close friends and family are registered too. If you're not going to see or speak to them soon, message them about it.
The easiest way to register is online: https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote. Post the link on Facebook and send a few tweets out to help spread the word.
Together, let's make sure that everyone eligible is registered to vote by 1st December so that the boundary review is as fair as possible for voters everywhere.