In a UK first, a new app and website are being launched that allow university students to quickly and simply put their name down to vote.
It is hoped that the new technology will help to increase democratic engagement from a voting cohort that is under-represented in elections. It will also significantly reduce the administrative burden on universities, which are required by law to enable students to sign on to the electoral register.
Students in halls used to be automatically registered by their higher education (HE) provider upon enrolment. But since 2014, when the government introduced Individual Voter Registration, every eligible voter has been required to sign up singly.
The rules around electoral registration changed again in 2017, with the advent of the Higher Education and Research Act, which puts the onus on universities to facilitate sign-up for students. But that means a whole lot of extra work for academic registrars, setting up a raft of new systems and revising rules and practices around the collection of data. It’s an expensive and time-consuming headache.
Fortunately, a painless, simple solution for the whole HE sector has been created by Jisc.
Transferring data securely
With students’ consent, the service will collect information from the university (such as date of birth and full name) and the student (National Insurance Number) and automatically transfer it to the relevant, participating electoral registrars at local authorities, so reducing the administrative burden on universities of working with multiple council registrars across the UK.
Jisc takes care of the contracting and the data will be transferred securely via the UK Access Management Federation, which every HE provider already uses.
After a successful pilot involving nine universities, the service is launching for all on 1 April, 2019. There is more information about how the app will work (including about data security) on our blog.
Increasing the number of student voters
Those under the age of 24 are the least likely to be on the electoral register, and it’s hoped the new service will help to change this. The Electoral Commission’s latest research shows that groups which are less stable in their living habits, such as students, are also less likely to be registered to vote.
For example, in 2015, only 27% of people who had been in their property for up to one year were on the electoral register, compared with 96% of people who had lived at the property for over 16 years. The same report found that only 65% of 18 to 19-year-olds and 67% of 20 to 24-year-olds were registered. This is compared with 96% of those over the age of 65.