How we’re working to encourage more students to register to vote
Minister Chris Skidmore highlights initiatives across the UK to get young people engaged in our democracy.
As part of my Democracy that works for Everyone tour around the UK, I recently visited Cardiff University, Sheffield University, and Bath University to discuss online student electoral registration.
Students are an under-registered group within our democracy and I’m determined to make sure that everyone who is eligible to register to vote is able to do so easily, without encountering unnecessary barriers.
I’ve also hosted two separate roundtables in the last 2 months — one with representatives of students and one with representatives of youth groups — to discuss how we can make it easier for students and young people to register to vote, and get more engaged in our democracy.
Our discussions focused on the barriers that typically face students and young people, when registering to vote and some the solutions that groups and government are trialling to overcome these barriers.
You don’t need to be 18 to apply to register to vote
Some students think they cannot register to vote until they are 18, when in fact young people can register as ‘attainers’ from the age of 16. We discussed the importance of engaging young people in politics early to ensure a lifelong involvement in the democratic process — in schools and at home.
Make sure you’re registered to vote at the right address
Students who move away from home often live in halls of residence or private accommodation and some are frequent movers changing their address each year.
Local authorities talked about how they find it difficult to engage students through the usual door-to-door canvassing. It’s clear we need to rethink how and where we engage students using platforms already in use by students.
You don’t necessarily need your National Insurance number
We talked about how young people will not register if they can’t find their National Insurance number. Although using your National Insurance number is the quickest and easiest way to register, electors can use alternative forms of identification if they don’t have it. Electors simply have to visit www.gov.uk/register-to-vote and follow the steps.
Innovative initiatives to get students registered to vote
The roundtable also provided an opportunity to hear about some solutions that have already been implemented and discuss how these could be used by educational institutes across the country.
With support from government funding, the University of Sheffield undertook a pilot that involved integrating electoral registration into their enrolment process. This led to 76% of eligible students being registered to vote.
The initiative has since been taken up by Cardiff University, where it has also been successful.
I plan to share the outcomes of the University of Sheffield model and others with the higher and further education sector.
What is clear though is that one size does not fit all
It’s for universities in partnership with their Local Electoral Service to decide what works for them.
This Sheffield initiative only works in areas where students live in the same area as the university. Software is a barrier too. Not all universities have the ability to roll out similar processes using their software.
University representatives agreed that more support was needed from IT providers in order to explore this further, and how partnerships with local Electoral Service Teams can really make a difference.
The two roundtables marked a starting point for how we address some of the barriers faced, but the conversation does not end there.
We need to make better use of communications channels that are already used by students, such as Facebook and Snapchat. It currently only take 3 minutes to register to vote online on gov.uk, so we should be using social media platforms to redirect users more easily to the platform.
The insight from this roundtable and visits will contribute to the Democratic Engagement Strategy I am developing over the next few months.
This strategy will look at how we can encourage under-registered groups to play a more active role in our democratic process. This work cannot and should not be done alone.
I will continue to work in coordination with organisations to increase electoral registration among students, and ensure that across each part of the UK, every voice matters.
Chris Skidmore MP is the Minister for the Constitution at the Cabinet Office. Read more about his work to build a democracy that works for everyone here.