National Voter Registration Day: getting the youth vote out

A Bite the Ballot campaign, set up by school teacher Mike Sani, is doing all it can to help young adults find their voice. “If you aren’t on the register, you are invisible,” they claim in an attempt to prepare people for National Voter Registration Day on 5 February. Nineteen-year-old registered voter Hope Barker reports.Election - Young Voter Casts Ballot

An apathetic approach to politics is becoming increasingly common in young people as they feel misrepresented by their Parliament and distanced from it. In the 2010 elections only 44% of those aged 18-24 voted compared to 67% in the 65+ age group. This is hardly surprising when you consider that under half of young adults in the UK are registered to vote whereas 96% of those aged 65+ are. While Russell Brand responds to this by calling for a revolution and telling young people not to vote, another organisation called Bite the Ballot is crying out for the complete opposite. They seek to educate young people in politics so that they can see the relevance of it to them and be motivated to make a change.

Bite the Ballot

Mike Sani, now 30, set up Bite the Ballot three years ago. While teaching at a school in Dartford, Sani became friends with co-founder of the movement and Business Studies teacher David Hughesman who encouraged him to show an interest in politics. Before the 2010 elections Sani asked his Sixth Form class who was planning to vote and was shocked to find that the answer was none. The students gave reasons such as they didn’t know how to vote, didn’t think their vote would make a difference or even that they would feel silly going to a polling station. Out of this experience Bite the Ballot was born to show young people that voting really is worthwhile.

Three years down the line Bite the Ballot is an ever-growing movement supported by numerous MPs including Deputy PM Nick Clegg. They have hosted many events such as talks chaired by MPs Jo Swinson and Duncan Hames and even decorating the Houses of Parliament with submissions of  artwork and photographs on theme of “What does it mean to me to be in Britain in 2012?” (an idea now being taken as far as the European Parliament with the theme “What does it mean to be European?”)

The movement operates largely on a digital level, making it relevant and current – and echoing some of the motives behind Speaker John Bercow’s proposition to introduce electronic voting. Bite the Ballot has launched its own version of the Twitter blue tick verification badges, offering similar digital badges to those who register to vote. Each badge equates to points and enough points can result in a V Festival ticket or similar prizes. These sorts of competitions give young people an incentive to get behind the campaign and become actively involved.

National Voter Registration Day

The organisation has also launched another campaign with National Voter Registration Day, which will take place for the first time this year on Wednesday 5 February – and on 5 February every year hereafter.

They will be encouraging schools and community groups not just to register to vote but to pass the message on to others in their area. They aim to get over 250,000 people to sign up and break the British record, with the help of the National Union of Students who are getting over 600 student unions involved. The date chosen, 5 February, marks the anniversary of the Great Reform Act which first introduced Voter Registration in 1832, and so what better way to celebrate and commemorate this than to launch such a campaign?

Votes at 16

Drawing inspiration from America’s “Rock the Vote” campaign, Sani and his team are doing all they can to persuade young people that voting really is worth it. Not only are they focussing on those who can vote and changing their attitudes, but they have also taken an active interest in the campaign to reduce the voting age to 16 – a policy also supported by both Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg. The belief is that, if the voting age was reduced then politics could become a vital part of the school curriculum so that teenagers are introduced to the principles and become more actively involved at a younger age.

It is clear that Bite the Ballot are doing all that they can to close the gap between politicians and young people. Their varied range of events, competitions and campaigns has drawn participation from far and wide with supporters including sports personalities Amir Khan, Jonnie Peacock and Stephanie Reid. Gradually, the passion and perseverance of the organisation are making a significant difference in their fight for the youth of Britain, with their Voter Registration Day campaign now set to see tens of thousands of young people change their attitude towards politics.