In just a few months’ time over a million voters could lose the right to vote – and they may not even realise it.
It is potentially the biggest disenfranchisement in the history of the United Kingdom and is a potential disaster for democracy in our country. Many people, without even knowing, will lose their right to vote for councillors, MPs, MEPs and in the EU referendum which is due in the next couple of years.
If they are not registered to vote, they may also find it harder to get a credit card, mobile phone contract and passport, and to change energy supplier.
So, given it’s so important, why are one million people about to lose this important right?
The reason for this mess is simple. There is a new, sensible plan known as ‘individual voter registration’ which has been brought in to prevent electoral fraud. However, the Government has rushed in these changes a year early – meaning many people have been left behind.
Previously one person in every household was responsible for registering everyone else who lives at that address. Under the new scheme, each person is now required to register to vote individually, rather than by household.
You need to provide ‘identifying information’ such as your date of birth and national insurance number when applying to register and your application will need to be verified before you are added to the register. Anyone unable to supply this information can provide an alternative form of evidence of their identity.
Current estimates suggest that there are around one million people who have not provided this additional information. If they don’t provide it by December they will be removed from the register – and will no longer be able to vote.
This particularly impacts upon those in privately rented accommodation, students and those who have moved house. The Electoral Commission has recommended that the Government waits until December next year – as originally agreed. So far the Government has ignored these warnings.
So what does this mean for people in Barnsley?
Well, you could lose your right to elect your councillors, your MP and – crucially in the coming years – to vote in the European referendum.
Under the new proposals, not being on the electoral register could even see you fined £80.
I will continue to lobby the Government to halt this reckless measure. In the meantime, I know that Barnsley Council is putting lots of effort into ensuring they register as many people as possible. They have teams of canvassers out in the borough over the coming months, going to people’s houses to ensure that they are registered.
Finally, are you sure that you're registered? Even if you were on the register before, that doesn’t mean you still will be. Just be certain and check you’re not one of the missing million. It is very simple and only takes a few minutes. Go to: www.gov.uk/register-to-vote
The film ‘Suffragettes’, which is currently showing at cinemas, is a timely reminder that people fought hard for this right. Having won the vote for working class people and women, it would be wrong to let it slip through our fingers now.
This article was first published in the Barnsley Chronicle on 30th October