The views of Oxford students are at risk of underrepresentation at next year’s General Election, following changes to voting regulations.
In a move to cut election fraud, only members of the public who have registered themselves independently will be able to vote in May. However, research conducted by the BBC suggests the majority of students have not yet signed up.
This problem is likely to be most acute in Oxford, where nearly a quarter of residents are students – the highest proportion in England and Wales.
Although the reforms were embarked upon under the last Labour government, the former co-Chair of the Oxford University Labour Club, Nikhil Venkatesh, was sceptical about the current administration’s motivation for pushing them through: “The Coalition government has brought in changes that will result in fewer students being able to vote — which is not very surprising since very few students will vote for the Tories or the Lib Dems. It’s really important that we don’t let them get away with it.”
Until now, Oxford colleges had been able to register many of their students to vote, under a rule that permitted the “head of the household” to act on behalf of their residents.
To combat the shortfall, most students have received voting registration forms at their college, and online registration has been promoted as a simpler alternative to postal registration.
OUSU President, Louis Trup, and the VP for Charities and Community, Ruth Meredith, are hoping to promote student voter registration by organising a voter registration week in Hilary and creating an OUSU manifesto for the General Election, which will “engage students in the issues they have told us they care about and thus encourage them to register to vote and make their voice heard”.
With regard to a long-term solution, Trup commented: “In the long term, we hope that students will be automatically registered to vote when they register at the university, but this a solution which will only be possible in future years.”
Oxford’s political associations have also been keen to encourage members to register to vote.
Theo Heren, OUCA’s Political Officer for Hilary 2015, explained: “We’re worried about the low registration figures, given the importance of ensuring the student voice is heard in local and national elections. OUCA will be doing our bit to ensure our members are signed up to vote using the new rules and we hope colleges will be doing more to raise awareness of this issue in the run up to the general election.”
Venkatesh, agreed that “all of us should take a couple of minutes to register to vote, and turn out on May 7th”.