Individual Electoral Registration and Electoral Administration - Political and Constitutional Reform Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by the National Union of Students


1.  NUS welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Committee's call for evidence on "The Government's proposals on Electoral Administration".

2.  NUS, through the Society and Citizenship Zone has been working to increase registration and participation for some time. In particular, the 2010 general election campaign included work with the Electoral Commission and work on the "Get Out the Vote" Campaign.

3.  NUS does not oppose individual electoral registration (IER) in principle; rather, we are concerned that at the moment the likely positive effects could be outweighed by the negative effects, including risks to student registration and participation.


4.  Our work over the 2010 general election campaign involved encouraging higher education vice chancellors and principals to share information with their local authority on where students live in order to help them with block registration.

5.  Students' unions have a crucial role to play in encouraging students to use their right to vote and to make sure they are fully informed about the local and general elections.

6.  NUS does not believe that students are apathetic; instead we recognise that young people are often disengaged with the political process. We know from the 2005 British Election Study survey that only 57% of students voted in that election, which shows the scale of the challenge facing those like NUS looking to encourage registration and participation within the student population.


7.  There are some ways in which IER could be good in theory. For example, NUS has long supported a move towards online voter registration and would be interested in ways in which IER could be utilised in order to enable this.

8.  In this way, IER could be a positive step, if properly set within wider efforts to improve levels of voter registration, particularly within underrepresented groups.

9.  However, it is currently not clear whether IER would be utilised in this way, and many concerns have been raised about potential electoral fraud. Online registration would for example need to be supported by technological innovation. As it stands, NUS is concerned by the current lack of any strategy on online registration and would like to see more from the Government on how they plan to take this work forward as part of changes to voter registration.


10.  There remain numerous and significant barriers to getting young people registered to vote. The Government need to demonstrate that these proposals will not undermine longstanding work to increase turnout and registration among students and young people, but instead work to ensure increases.

11.  Any proposal to introduce IER must therefore include a clear and thorough plan as to how the risks to registration levels can be mitigated.

12.  NUS strongly recommends that the Government should not proceed with IER until a strategy for ensuring that student registration will not be damaged has been developed. Similarly, any proposal must include more proactive measures to encourage registration and participation amongst young people and students.

13.  Moreover, it must be noted that electoral registration is often a prerequisite for accessing other services and amenities. This clearly further increases the importance of a strategy for ensuring that any move to IER does not negatively impact on student registration.

14.  NUS would encourage the Committee to explore the impact of IER in Northern Ireland, where anecdotal evidence suggests many students have been left off the electoral register—including those who previously had been covered by block voter registration.


15.  Given NUS' longstanding work on encouraging registration and participation, we would strongly encourage the Government to work with us to avoid negative consequences arising from any changes. The effort to encourage voter registration will be particularly important should IER be introduced.

16.  Although publicity campaigns have a role to play, experience shows that these are not always the most effective use of resources. A joined up strategy is needed, which would include giving greater powers to the Electoral Commission, targeting of registration rates, coordinated campaigns together with local organisations and community groups, such as students' unions, and engagement with young people still in school or college even before they are eligible to vote.

17.  The Electoral Commission does not currently have sufficient powers to determine local electoral administration, which allows for local registration officers to act with autonomy.

18.  NUS therefore recommends that the Electoral Commission be given more powers to encourage a consistent, tried and tested approach to encourage youth and student registration and participation.

19.  This would include setting targets for local electoral registration officers as to the percentage of students in a halls of residence signed up to vote.

20.  NUS has issued guidance to electoral registration officers to share best practice, but recognises that this is not the most efficient approach.

21.  It is not clear that alternatives to individual voter registration have been properly explored. If the change is based on concerns about voter fraud, other measures such as requesting presentation of identification for those registered as a "block" could be just as effective.

September 2011

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Prepared 4 November 2011