Every vote could make a difference on May 7 - and too many are being lost

Labour MEP for the North East Paul Brannen says voter turnout is under threat at what could be one of the tightest elections ever

Rui Vieira/PA Wire A ballot box at a polling station
A ballot box at a polling station

Recently I went to listen to Peter Kellner, the pollster, speak at Durham University.

He confirmed the widely held view that this May’s general election is set to be a close result. So close he suggested that rather than staying up late to see the result we should instead go to bed and get up early – ie a 6am result not a 3am result.

Kellner also observed that with constituencies that might change hands like Berwick-upon-Tweed not counting till the Friday it could be even later before we know which party has won the most seats.

With the result set to be so close each individual vote becomes of greater and greater significance yet the UK is facing a crisis of democratic participation. The number of people turning out to vote has fallen from a high of 83.9 per cent in 1950 to just 65.1 per cent in 2010, and the situation is set to get worse.

One million voters are thought to have dropped off the Voting Register in the past year, and it is feared that millions more will follow after the general election this May 7.

The reason for the fall in the numbers of those eligible to vote is because the way we register has changed. Whereas previously the task of registering adults eligible to vote was left to one person from every household, Individual Voter Registration (which became law in 2009) requires UK citizens to register individually.

The aims behind new measures, including the wish to combat the exclusion of women and reduce electoral fraud, are laudable.

However the implementation of Individual Voter Registration by the current government is so complicated that it will exclude many more voters than it includes.

Newly married women who choose to change their name, for example, will need to provide two forms of identification to remain on the register.

In total, more than seven million people risk losing their vote after the general election this May unless they provide further evidence of their eligibility.

That’s why on Thursday February 5 the UK celebrated its second National Voter Registration Day, an impressive initiative created by campaign group Bite the Ballot.

Social media was alive with cries from politicians, trade unions, campaigners and citizens alike, all calling for people to sign up to vote and have a voice in the way our country is run. Even Facebook got involved, urging every eligible user of the online service to register ahead of May 7.

With 35 million users in the UK – a figure considerably higher than the number of people that voted in the 2010 general election – the impact of such a campaign has great potential.

The greatest worry is that students and young people will be disproportionately hit by the new law. For many, May 7 will be their first opportunity to exercise their most basic civic right, by electing the men and women they want to see leading the country.

However it’s feared that the number of 16-18 year olds going on the register will be down by more than 100,000 before the general election. Levels of registration in the majority of university residences have fallen from 100% to just 10%.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Casting your vote has a significance that stretches beyond our borders, too.

The UK has much to gain from our continued membership of the European Union, which has the power to significantly improve the lives of Europe’s most vulnerable citizens.

Yet UK voter turnout in last year’s European elections was one of the lowest among Member states, at just 34.19 per cent (compared to a 43.09 per cent average).

So please make sure that you, your family and friends are all registered to vote in the coming general election and for any possible referendum on our continued membership of the EU.

Everything suggests that the result on May 7 is going to be very close, so your vote could make all the difference. Over 166,000 UK citizens registered to vote on February 5 alone - join them now and make your voice heard!

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