Socialist Worker

Fall in voter registration is a threat to democracy

Issue No. 1945

Millions of potential voters have not registered in time to vote in the general election expected on 5 May. Government figures have show a dramatic fall in registration since 2001.

Tony Staunton, the Respect prospective parliamentary candidate for the Plymouth Devonport constituency, told Socialist Worker, “These figures are an indictment of New Labour and the other main parties. Their actions have revolted people so much that many don’t know or care about registering for elections.

“People don’t believe that politicians work for the ordinary working person. In Plymouth we have whole areas with very low registration. When you go canvassing people say, ‘All politicians are the same.’

“Respect has to prove that we offer a real alternative.”

In some areas voter registration is down to just over 50 percent — with a low turnout on the day many MPs could be elected with the support of only 20 percent of those eligible to vote.

The vanishing voters, who have gone missing in disproportionately greater numbers in Labour-held seats, were revealed in government figures on Thursday last week.

Fraud

The findings, compiled from returns by electoral registration officials for the Office for National Statistics, are backed by a report by two parliamentary committees which says that registration is in “decline in all cases”.

The most alarming findings come in a submission to Commons committees from Clive Betts, a Sheffield Labour MP.

After interviewing the city’s electoral registration officer, he found that one in five households had failed to register to vote across the city — with low registration rates concentrated in inner city Labour seats.

The threat to democracy posed by low registration rates comes as questions are being raised about fraudulent postal voting.

Judge Richard Mawrey QC is presiding over hearings into allegations of widespread, organised postal voting fraud in elections in Birmingham last June. He said last week that the system was “an open invitation to fraud”.

In Birmingham’s 11 constituencies, more than 53,000 people have asked to vote by post at the general election, compared with 16,000 in 2001.

The police are also investigating allegations of postal voting fraud in Cheshire, Derbyshire, Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and Surrey.

New Labour changed the law in 2000 to allow postal voting on demand. And, while normal registration figures have plummeted, registrations for postal votes have soared.

A survey of 55 councils, covering 135 constituencies by the Guardian newspaper has revealed applications for postal votes have risen in all cases.

In some areas, especially in inner cities, applications have tripled.

Safeguards

Salma Yaqoob is Respect’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Birmingham Sparkbrook & Small Heath, one of the areas affected by allegations of fraudulent postal voting in last year’s local elections.

She told Socialist Worker, “I have no confidence that, with an election only weeks away, sufficient safeguards will be put in place to ensure mass fraud does not take place again.

“I am calling on every citizen to join our campaign for strict limits to be reinstated for postal voting.”


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News
Sat 2 Apr 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1945
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