THOUSANDS of people across Oxford will this week be receiving letters telling them about important changes to the electoral registration system.
The city council will be writing to all 113,000 people on Oxford’s electoral register and the authority’s chief legal officer has urged people to take note of the changes – intended to modernise the system and drive up often low levels of participation.
Previously one person would fill register people in the household, but this year people in England and Wales will be registering on an individual basis.
Jeremy Thomas, the city council’s head of law and governance, said: “In the present system one person in the household returns the form we send out every year and puts everyone living there on the register .
“But the law has changed and each individual must take responsiblity for registering themselves to vote.
“We have sent our register to the Department for Work and Pensions to do a data match. The result of that is that we have approximately 80,000 people who matched the government’s data and 30,000 who didn’t.
“What we are going to do this week is write to people on the register. The people who did match will be told they don’t need to do anything more and they will be on the register for the General Election.
“But the 30,000 people will receive a form and will be asked to register.
“The key messages from us are that if by the end of August you have not had a letter or form then you need to contact us. And if you get a form and don’t do anything you will not be able to vote next year.”
While it is rarely enforced, failing to register to vote is technically illegal in the UK.
THE turnout at the Oxfordshire County Council elections in 2013 was 31.87 per cent, down from 38 per cent in 2009
At this year’s European elections, Oxford’s turnout was 38 per cent
It was 32 per cent in Cherwell and 39 per cent in West Oxfordshire
For the district council elections, also held in May, 37 per cent of people in Oxford and Cherwell voted, with 39 per cent in West Oxfordshire
At the last South Oxfordshire District Council and Vale of White Horse District Council elections in 2011 there was a 49 per cent turnout.
Mr Thomas said that as well as giving people the opportunity to vote in the upcoming General Election, being on the electoral register can also improve someone’s credit score.
He also urged voters to register online, which can now be done for the first time, which will save the city council money.
Failing to return the form will also cost the council money, he added, because it will require a reminder letter to be sent out and, if necessary, an officer visit to be made.
Jenny Watson, chairman of the Electoral Commission, said: “This change is something we’ve been calling for since 2003 and is an important step towards a more modern and secure electoral system.
“Online registration also helps organisations run innovative and exciting voter registration drives that should appeal to young people in particular.”
Anyone wanting to vote in UK elections and referendums must be on the electoral register
- No one is automatically registered and residents must renew their details every year
- Over-16s can register to vote but can’t vote until they are 18
- They must be a British, Irish, Commonwealth or European Union citizen
- British citizens living abroad who have been registered to vote in the past 15 years can register to vote in UK general election and European parliamentary elections but not local government elections or for devolved governments like Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
- Service personnel and their wives, husbands or civil partners posted abroad can register as a service voter
- Compulsory voting is enforced in countries like Argentina, Australia, Brazil, North Korea and Cyprus.
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