Sunderland MP welcomes national voter registration drive

Sharon Hodgson MP

Sharon Hodgson MP has welcomed a national voter registration drive after an elector drop off in Washington and Sunderland West. 

The MP for Washington and Sunderland West, has welcomed a cross-party, multi-organisation campaign led by Bite The Ballot.

The campaigns aim will be to increase voter registration, in the same week that figures show that over 1’200 electors in Washington and Sunderland West have dropped off the electoral register.

This drop off of electors is due to the current Government’s plans which brought forward the full implementation of the Individual Voter Registration (IER), by 12 months. This took place back on December 1, 2015.

Sharon Hodgson, MP, said: “It is concerning that in Washington and Sunderland West there has been a drop of over 1200 electors from the electoral register, which included as part of the national picture marks the biggest disenfranchisement in our history.

“Labour opposed the plans to bring forward the changes to voter registration for these exact reasons, and campaigned at the end of last year to make sure people were registered to vote and instead wanted to see a transitional period with strong safeguards to mitigate against this drop-off.

“With local elections coming up in May along with an expected EU Referendum in the summer it is important, now more than ever, that people are registered to vote and don’t lose out on exercising their democratic right and I welcome the week-long voter registration drive being led by Bite The Ballot to ensure people can cast their vote on polling day.”

The Labour Party supported the move to IER, but opposed the decision to bring forward the implementation due to concerns that earlier implementation would lead to a large number of people falling off the register and instead called for a transitional period with strong safeguards that would have mitigated against any damage to the electoral register.

Late last year, Labour led a national campaign to highlight the changes and make sure people were registered to vote register ahead of the move to IER last December and has called on the Government to issue guidance to make it easier for universities, local authorities, electoral registration offices and other Government agencies to work together to ensure no-one is disenfranchised from voting in elections.

Jeff Townsend, ex-Conservative Party candidate for Sunderland Central, said: “It is imperative that people are engaged in the political process. People fought and died to preserve our right to change the political system through democracy.

“I absolutely agree with getting people to sign up to vote. Of course, if you ask people to register themselves it gives extra incentive to engage. You have asked to vote and therefore are more likely to do so.

“There is an argument that it will also help counter some electoral fraud. Whilst electoral fraud is relatively small in the UK, political apathy and disconnect is a growing concern.

“If young people are being helped to register and get their voices heard I think that it is great. It will also help people realise that voting is the most powerful tool to change political decisions; much more so than rallies or online rants.

“I support any drive that gets more young people signed up to vote and commend Bite the Ballot on this drive. I think the electorate being asked to sign up for themselves gives people an extra reason to be engaged and I think in the long run this will help people see the political system working for them.”

Mr Townsend, added: “Of course there are far more middle aged and older electorate than younger voters so voting won’t necessarily change things as they want. But surely the majority’s voice should be the guiding light in most things. Therefore, whilst not perfect, democracy is the best form of engagement and rule that we have.”

The figures released also come the same week as Bite The Ballot’s National Voter Registration Drive 2016.

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