The NoVoteNoVoice whistle stop bus tour is off to Brighton and Hove tomorrow (March 4) and then onwards to Southampton the following day (March 5), in an unprecedented voter registration drive that’s hoping to reverse the millions of people missing from the electoral roll.
The bus tour, organised by a coalition of groups including Unite, Hope not Hate, Bite the Ballot and Operation Black Vote, among others, will be stopping at various towns and cities throughout the country in the next two weeks to help register voters in areas where registration rates are worryingly low.
In Brighton and Hove, some 12,500 people have fallen off the roll, with numbers particularly high among the city’s large student population.
In one campus, only 377 eligible voters have registered in 2015, down from the 3,500 registered last year, meaning a staggering nine in ten student voters could lose their vote. In one hall of residence only 12 out of a possible 800 voters are on the roll.
In Southampton, where the bus will stop on Thursday, the situation is just as dire. In Bargate ward, where the electoral roll has shrunk by more than a quarter, 4,000 people have dropped from the register and in neighbouring Fareham, 7,000 potential voters have disappeared. In the Swaythling ward, some 1,648 voters – almost 17 per cent of those eligible to vote – are now missing.
The steep drop in numbers of registered voters has come in the wake of Individual Voter Registration (IER), which now requires individual voters to register themselves. Under the previous system, heads of each household could register all residents, meaning universities could block register students living in halls.
Under the new rules, which NoVoteNoVoice argues are not being adequately publicised, young people, ethnic minorities, private renters and those on lower income are at greatest risk of falling off the register.
Mirror columnist Ros Wynne-Jones argued that these changes are exactly why a campaign like NoVoteNoVoice is needed.
“Politicians have been too relaxed about the registration changes being understood, but as we cannot wait for Westminster to wake up, we’re getting out there to talk to people about the value of voting,” she said.
‘Talk to me’
“Simply registering sends a message to politicians,” she added. “It says, if you want to win my vote then you must talk to me and listen to me. People may feel hacked off with political life in this country but our message is ‘don’t sit this out – your vote is your power, use it’.”
Ellen Clifford of Operation Disabled Vote explained why it is especially important for disabled people to vote come May.
“Disabled people remain one of the most marginalised and excluded groups in society and every day barriers to participation include exercising our democratic right to vote,” she said. “On the road with the NVNV tour we’ll be talking to disabled people about how they can vote and the access standards they can expect at polling stations.
“If disabled people want politicians to prioritise the issues that matter most to us then we need to make disabled voter power really count,” Clifford added.
Unite national youth coordinator Anthony Curley urged young people to become politically engaged before it’s too late.
“The saying goes that ‘if you vote you get stuff, if you don’t you get stuffed’,” he said. “There’s a worrying trend of young people not engaging with the political process, too many aren’t registering to vote – I fear that may become the habit of a lifetime.
“We need to mobilise the voting power of younger people, get them on that roll so that politicians of all parties think about our countries’ future, not just getting over the finishing line in May.”
The NoVoteNoVoice bus will stop at Brighton (4 March); Southampton (5 March); Bristol (6 March); Cardiff (7 March); Birmingham (8 March); Chester (9 March); Liverpool (10 March); Manchester (11 March); Calder Valley (12 March); Sheffield (13 March); Leeds (14 March) and Newcastle (15 March).
To find out more about NoVoteNoVoice, visit Unite’s website here.
*Pic of bus in Hastings, March 3 by Tim Anderson/Mirror