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.
NUS' WORK ON
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
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 registerincluding
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
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.