Wednesday 03-02-2016 - 17:18
This is a guest blog by Jack Mably, president of University of Birmingham Guild of Students. For National Voter Registration Week he takes a look at some of the best ways of getting students registered to vote.
It’s National Voter Registration Week (NVRW), and this week we found out that almost 800,000 people have ‘fallen off’ the electoral register based on the new legislation imposed by the current government. I can place a fairly solid bet that a good proportion of those will be students and people living in shared accommodation aged 18-25. The new regulations make it harder for universities to register students in halls of residence and it has meant that you can no longer register as a house but rather as an individual.
800,000 in key seats could have dramatically changed the election result in May 2015 and we have to make sure that this same 800,000 don’t miss out on having their say on one of the biggest issues facing politics right now – the EU referendum. Given that students and young adults are notoriously one of the groups who fail to get registered, it’s up to us as students and students’ unions to ensure that we are at the forefront of voter registration and creating informed debate on one of the biggest referendums of this century so far. So what can we do?
Voter Registration Drives
Get creative! Create your own polling station style booths… Run around campus dressed up and with iPads or even hire your own big red bus to drive round and encourage people to jump aboard and register to vote. Voter registration drives were happening across the country last year and with some success. NVRW 2015 saw 441,500 people register to vote so they could have their voices heard.
Finding Ways Round the National Insurance Number
One of the hardest parts about the campaign last year was the barrier of people not knowing their National Insurance number and it is a problem that plagued campaigns nationwide. After losing my card when I was 17, I sympathised with the students who didn’t have it etched into their memories and needed to think about some creative ways around the problem. One temporary solution and a way of targeting many students at once is through utilising your human resources departments both at your union and your university. Here at Birmingham Guild, we employ approximately 300 student staff and on each and every payslip is the elusive national insurance number which we all seem to have forgotten. This can be easily emulated over at the university too if they employ student staff. A simple message with a link to www.gov.uk/register-to-vote is all you need to easily pick up a few hundred people at a time to make it easy and convenient for them to register to vote.
A more permanent fix, and something that we are attempting to put in place for September 2016, is to fully integrate voter registration into student enrolment. This is something that has aptly been named the “Sheffield Model” after the University of Sheffield were the first university to successfully integrate the two forms into one simple form which registers students to vote and enrols them into the university for the year. Some universities have since followed suit and if yours is yet to do so this is arguably one of the most successful ways to get your students on the electoral register – however you would be hard pushed to get this sorted in time for the EU referendum.
Over 800,000 people have just dropped off the Electoral Register, and we're willing to bet that a lot of them are students. But YOU matter - and with the EU referendum coming up, it's never been more important to get yourself to the ballot box.As Bite the Ballot's National Voter Registration Drive is going on this week, here's Jack (your Guild President!) talking about why it's so important for you to take the time to register!Once you've had a watch, get yourself over here to get registered: https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote
Posted by Guild of Students, University of Birmingham on Thursday, 4 February 2016
Sports Clubs and Societies
Sometimes as unions it can be forgotten how useful the numerous groups we look after can be in pushing out messages and delivering key campaigns. This year we successfully got 369 people registered in a week without having to stand at a stall, without having to door knock and without having to run around campus dressed up encouraging people to vote. Instead, we put the power in the hands of the hundreds of clubs, groups and societies; we ran an incentivised competition whereby the group who brought back the most filled out voter registration forms won. Within a week, we returned almost 400 students registered to vote – a great idea for unions who don’t have huge amounts of time on their hands!
Goats for Votes
But by far my favourite campaign of 2015 has to go to UEA. Last year during voter registration week we saw them launch the beautifully simple but beautifully inventive Goats for Votes. It was as simple as this: bring some goats to campus and in exchange people speak to officers and staff about registering to vote. The campaign was a huge success and resulted in over 1000 people registering to vote at UEA and it was as simple as bringing some farmyard animals to campus.
This is our opportunity to lead the way as students’ unions and really shape the debate to make sure it’s students who are at the forefront. So make a quick video, hire a bus or even invest in some friendly farmyard pals – the possibilities are endless and our futures and our students’ futures rely on it.