Midnight Monday was the last chance voters had to register to vote for this year’s general election.
One of the most unpredictable general elections for decades has seen all parties striving to get all the voters they can on the electoral roll as the only certainty in this election is that it will be close.
As of June 10th last year, the government changed the way voters registered in the country in what the Electoral Commission described as the “biggest change to voter registration in a generation.” The new system, Individual Voter Registration, involves voters registering themselves online in a move away from the old “head of household” registration system. That required one person from each house to register all those eligible to vote who lived at the address.
In January this year it was revealed that there were allegedly a million voters “missing” from the electoral roll. The Labour Party criticised changes to the voting system, citing students in particular as a group that was particularly affected. Ed Miliband describe it as, “David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s final insult to young people” and Labour MP Andy Love called it, “an affront to democracy.”
Under the old system universities could supply a single list of eligible voters to the local authority for registration. The party clearly feared that the usually reliably left-wing student vote would be significantly weakened as students wouldn’t realise that they were responsible for registering themselves until they went to the polling station.
In light of the changes there has been a high profile campaign on television and on social media urging people to register to vote. #RegisterToVote was one of the top trending topics on twitter yesterday. There was also a campaign specifically targeted towards black voters called Operation Black Vote, featuring the rapper Tinie Tempah, Homeland star David Harewood and former England footballer Sol Campbell, in which the black celebrities turned part of their skin white to “raise awareness” stating that by failing to register black people were “taking the colour out of Britain.”
Figures released today by the Electoral Commission appear to show an enormous uptake in voter registration over the last few weeks with nearly half a million people signing up yesterday alone breaking the previous record for registration in a single day by more than 300,000. Data for March also showed a steadily increasing number of 16-24 year olds, who were one of the major groups Labour had said would be left behind by the change.
The real test will be whether the online registration system increases the number of people who actually go to the polls. In the last general election fewer than 30 million of the 45.6million people eligible to vote turned out. To put that into perspective, the party that received the most votes in 2010 was the Conservative party who got 10.7million votes, those who did not cast a vote numbered nearly 16million.
Conservatives say that based on the last election they only need around 11,000 voters in key marginal constituencies to return a parliamentary majority. With margins as fine as that, if even half of those 16 million non-voters turn out to vote this time around, this already unpredictable election could become even more so.