66% of Oxford students are still yet to register to vote as the 20 April deadline for registration before the General Election looms closer. The change to individual voter registration, described by the Cabinet Office as the “biggest change to voter registration in a generation”, means that students are no longer automatically added to the register by their colleges in their capacity as ‘heads of households’.
While the new policy was reportedly intended to “give people more control and ownership over the process and increase the accuracy of the register”, it has caused voter registration rates in Oxford to fall dramatically. Registration in some wards of Oxford has fallen by up to 60%. Although it is not possible to determine what proportion of these people are students, with wards such as Carfax being comprised of 76% student voters and Holywell with 93%, it is likely that this is largely explainable by students failing to register.
Figures collected by OUSU show that the current average percentage of registered students across Oxford colleges is 44%. However, this varies widely between colleges, with 65% being the highest proportion of registered students at Wolfson College, while the lowest is just 13% at Green Templeton College.
The fall in the number of student’s registering to vote has attracted national concern, with the ‘Bite the Ballot’ campaign describing the situation as a ‘crisis’. In a recent article for The Independent, Labour leader Ed Miliband described the low student registration rates as “a disaster for our democracy”.
According to the Labour party, one million people – often students, people living in rented homes and ethnic minorities – have disappeared from the Electoral Register because of government reforms in the last 12 months.
OUSU has been at the forefront of trying to encourage student registration, launching a ‘Register to Vote’ campaign. Ruth Meredith, VP for Charities and Community, made voter registration the topic of her speech at the OUSU 2015 Student Awards, claiming: “If we aren’t registered, and we don’t vote, then we become a part of the problem, because the problem is silence.”
National Registration Day on Thursday also saw many colleges attempting to increase registration with varied initiatives. Corpus Christi, where currently only 36% of students are registered, organised a ‘DemocraTea’ in the JCR where Krispy Kreme Donuts were provided as incentive to register.