Tens of thousands of eligible voters across Greater Manchester could miss having their say at May’s general election because they aren’t registered, local councils have warned.
Speaking at the launch of a region-wide campaign to encourage people to register, Kate Brown, head of Manchester Council’s electoral services said that people need to ’take action now’.
Council officials, members of Manchester’s Youth Council and registration volunteers attended the event designed to let people know about changes to the registration system and the importance of voting.
CAMPAIGN: Members of Manchester’s Youth Council gathered at the voting event
Speaking at the event, Kate said: “We are doing a lot of work today and over the next few week to make sure that people know that the electoral registration system has changed and they are now personally responsible for making sure they are registered to vote.
“We’ve got about 2.2 million people across Greater Manchester who are eligible to vote and we think there could be tens of thousands of people that aren’t registered.
“It’s really important that if people want to express their views they are registered to vote and that nothing stops them voting come May 7.”
The launch coincided with National Voter Registration Day – a national day of action to increase voter registration levels.
As part of this, drives will be taking place across Greater Manchester including at libraries, youth centres, children’s centres and universities.
Particular emphasis is being placed on explaining the new way of registering to vote called individual electoral registration (IER) which the Government introduced the last year.
Under the old rules the head of the household registered everyone who lived there but now everyone has to register individually.
Peter Smith, a registration volunteer, said: “It’s important to make sure that people know what the changes are and to get registered so they’ve got a voice on the day.
“We’ve been doing a lot of work with students because a lot hadn’t realised that when they moved out of halls of residence their registration hadn’t followed them.”
The changes to individual registration will particularly impact young people, many of whom would have previously been registered by their parents but now have to do it themselves.
Historically, voting levels among young people has been the lowest of any age group, but campaigners have warned that the changes could reduce this even further.
VOTE: Mohammed Abbey, 21, urged young people to register and have their say
Estimates from the 2010 general election suggest just 55% of 18-24-year-olds were on the register and only 45% of those registered voted.
Mohammed Abby, 21, a Manchester council registration ambassador from Moss Side, told MM it was important that young people registered as the decisions of Government genuinely affect them.
He said: “It’s important for young people to register to vote because they’ve got to have a say.
“I’ve seen a lot of cuts recently in my area. When I was 18, this current government came in and everything changed – everything went downhill for me for three years.
“I was unemployed; I joined the work program which failed. I’ve seen a lot of young people in my area and at the moment a lot of them are unemployed under this government’s cuts. I feel for them.
“I told them about registering and they were saying: ‘do you have to be registered?’ Days like this are very important. If you don’t register then you can’t take part.”
His views were echoed by Manchester’s Youth Parliament Member Yasmina Lee, 15 from Wythenshawe.
She said: “So many young people have opinions, but if they’re not voting then there’s no point in their opinions because they’re not expressing them.”
She thought the introduction of online registration would help young people.
“Young people are always online, so we can just tell them to take five minutes and do something that’s really important,” she said.
Yasmina is also working for more young people to be given a say in future elections by campaigning for the voting age to be lowered to 16.
GET ONLINE: Yasmina Lee, 15, encouraged an internet-based voting system
She told MM: “I’ve already got a motion passed at council for votes at 16. I think, why should you be allowed to die for your country but not vote for who’s in charge?”
Voters have until April 20 to register to vote for this year’s general and local elections.
For more information about voting or to register online, click here.