With youth turnout still woefully low, it’s time to start automatically adding eligible voters to the electoral register
Let’s imagine for a moment that in this upcoming election and future polls, no young person will be denied the right to have their say at the ballot box
With the general election fast approaching, politicians, the media and our elders will be rushing around trying to figure out how we can get young people registering and turning up to vote.
The idea that our generation doesn’t care about politics is not true. There was an increase in youth turnout at the 2017 snap election and growing youth movements, such as the climate strikes, have shown that young people evidently care about the issues that affect them and are leading social change across the country on a daily basis.
The issue isn’t that we are not active, the issue is that not much of this activism and passion translates into voter registration and turning up to vote. A huge part of this is due to the fact that the current methods of engaging with our democracy are outdated and not fit for purpose. Not least to mention the fact that a lot of young people have a lack of faith in our political system and politicians to act as agents to deliver change on society’s most pressing issues.
According to official figures, a third of young people are currently missing from the electoral register, with young people less likely to be registered. This is partly due to the introduction of the individual electoral registration system in 2014, which has had a huge effect, wiping thousands of young people from the electoral register. It is estimated that more than 1.4 million people were wiped out from the electoral register after the implementation of the individual electoral registration system, disproportionately affecting young people – this is a democratic crisis.
Given the continuing issue and discussion of low voter registration, there is one obvious solution: eligible citizens should be automatically added to the electoral register. Let’s imagine for a moment that in this upcoming election and future polls, no young person will be denied the right to have their say at the ballot box. It may be wishful thinking but our future parliament should consider establishing a national register that integrates national and local datasets to empower citizens.
In the meantime, while our leaders consider this proposal, there are lots of innovative ways that we can get young people on the electoral register before the deadline. Through my work with My Life My Say and Vote For Your Future in this current and past elections, we have been working with a number of tech companies including Uber and Bumble, which have millions of young users on their platforms. If every major tech brand sent out a push notification to their young users aged between 18 to 24 a week before the voter registration deadline, this would make a huge difference in getting young people on the electoral register.
But we mustn’t also forget that young people registering to vote does not necessarily mean there will be a high turnout of young people. In an ideal world, every single young person would have been educated about the importance of participating in elections at school but given that isn’t the case and that time is pressing, we must build conversations in our most marginalised communities to empower, educate and equip young people with the skills they need to turn up on the 12 December.
That’s why I’m proud that My Life My Say will be rolling out a series of Democracy Cafés across each of the regions of the UK before and after the voter registration deadline to put young people at the heart of the general election debate. The Democracy Café is our reinvigoration of the 17th-century coffee house tradition where members of society would gather and discuss local issues.
With the Brexit deadline looming and so many pressing societal issues, not turning up is not an option. This is arguably the most defining election for future generations, so let’s make history by registering the highest number of young people turning up to vote since records began.
Mete Coban is a Labour Party councillor and chief executive of youth-led democracy charity My Life My Say