This week, the Electoral Commission published new research which showed that nearly a sixth of the electorate are not registered to vote. With ten months to go till the next General Election, 7.5million of the electorate will be unable to vote - 1.5million more than we had thought. Every vote will be important in 2015, yet, quietly, millions are left disenfranchised.
The new research also confirms some things we already knew about those not registered. The younger you are the less likely you are to have a vote. Fewer than two-thirds of young people are registered to vote, compared to nearly 95% of those aged over 65. Yet, a defining factor in is the length of residence at a property. Those who have been at the same property for over a decade are highly likely to be registered (94% are), compared to those who have been in a property for less than a year (40%). This means that transient groups - those in the private rented sector, students, young people - are far more likely to fall off the register.
If you thought this was bad, it could get a whole lot worse as the Government fast-tracks plans to introduce Individual Electoral Registration. During the transition from the household register to the new individual register, the Government is cross-referencing current registered electors with data held at the Department for Work and Pensions. Although this does help automatically transfer a large bulk of the electorate, a further 8.7million voters are in danger of losing their vote unless they register individually.
It's down to all of us to ensure millions more don't fall off the register. Local Councils should be building a local media strategy to complement the Electoral Commission's national media campaign. Now online registration is available, Councils can utilise their website, social media, press releases, community radio, newsletters and posters to highlight the need to register individually. Local Councils can also data-match locally. Lambeth have managed to achieve a 95% registration rate this way. Like Camden, they have used data from records of Council Tax, Housing tenancy, Housing leaseholders and Benefits for cross-referencing to ensure registration levels remain high.
Although registration is the legal responsibility of local authorities, there is more we can all do. Bite the Ballot are a fantastic campaigning organisation that put on workshops in schools and colleges to encourage registration. Apart from schools, registration can be driven by other civic organisations - a poster in the local pub, church or gym. We can contact letting agents, and ask them to add a registration form with every new tenant pack, to reach private renters who are so disproportionately under-registered. For those in University towns, we can mimic the work Paul Blomfield has done in Sheffield to work directly with the University administration to make sure they intertwine electoral registration with academic enrolment to help mitigate their inability to register students by block.
Registration is key for voter turnout and is the basis for constituency boundaries. As a movement, we must all wake up to the challenge of voter registration as Councillors, MPs and activists, before it's too late.