The UK general election called for December 12 2019 raises important issues regarding who is entitled to vote, who will be able to vote – and where they will vote.
The electoral roll, which lists everyone eligible to vote in the nation, is re-compiled every autumn. Households are approached in late summer to indicate which of their members are entitled to vote. If they are already enrolled to vote there they remain registered. If they were not previously on the roll at that address, they are contacted individually to confirm their wish to do so.
The final roll is then compiled in December and comes into effect in the following February. If the individuals contacted have not responded, they are not registered. Until then, the electoral roll compiled in the previous year remains in force. People can of course apply to be registered in the intervening months if they are not on the roll for any reason, such as because they’ve moved – but they are not prompted to do so.
Those who reach the age of majority (18) during the period when the roll is operating are registered in the preceding autumn and gain the right to vote on their birthday.
So, for the December 2019 election, the electoral roll will have been compiled more than a year previously – in December 2018. The roll now being compiled will not yet be in force.
This lengthy time period means many people will be in the wrong place. A significant percentage of the UK’s adult population moves each year (some 370,000 people) – often into a different constituency. Few inform the electoral registration officers of their moves so are not registered to vote at their new address.
Unless they quickly get themselves re-registered at their new address they will only be able to vote if either they go back to where they formerly lived – which may not be possible – or get a postal vote there. Time is against them.
Students away from home
One group many of people who are highly likely to be in the wrong place for this election are students. The great majority of those who reached the age of 18 during 2019 were almost certainly registered at their parents’ home address, but they may now be at university – many of them some distance from that address, and living in a different constituency.
They might have now been registered there, but that will not entitle them to vote there until February 2020. Unless they are prepared to travel to vote on December 12 (universities other than Oxford and Cambridge will still be in term time then), or can get a postal vote there, they will effectively be disenfranchised.
The same might be true of other students who have moved address since autumn 2018 – either within the city where they are studying or because they have migrated after graduation. Many of them may have registered at their new address but many more probably haven’t. And those who haven’t will again have to vote from their old address, or get a postal vote.
Of course, it is not too late. You can register to vote from your current address up to 12 working days before an election – so in this case up to November 26. And if you are on an electoral roll, but not for the constituency where you currently live, you could apply for a postal vote until up to 11 working days before the election (12 days if you also need to register).
Many hundreds of thousands of voters may be, in effect, disenfranchised by the timing of this general election unless they are able either to get themselves registered in the next few weeks, therefore, or can opt for a postal vote (and in so doing, potentially accepting that they will have to vote in a constituency where they think their vote will carry less weight than where they now live).
Many of them will be young people, among whom the parties – especially perhaps the opposition parties – will be seeking to mobilise support.
It all raises the question: how representative of the UK population will the December 12 2019 election really be?
Todd Hartman and David Rossiter also contributed to this article.