Surging Voter Registration in the United Kingdom

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New Orleans      Here’s an interesting voter registration story, but it’s not in the United States, but the United Kingdom.  I had been hearing about this phenomenon for weeks whenever I spoke with our organizers in England.  ACORN was working on a specialized program before the coming snap election to register tenants.  Speaking over the last several weeks with Nick Ballard, head organizer of ACORN UK, he reported that one million registered in a week and then this week mentioned almost 250,000 in one day.  It could be a gamechanger.

The numbers are making news around the world, and they are significant.  As reported in The Independent,

“…according to the Electoral Reform Society. Before the final deadline at midnight on 26 November, there have been 3,191,193 applications to register in the period from the day the election was called on 29 October to midnight on Monday.  That’s an average of 114,000 per day.  The figure is 38 per cent higher than the 2,315,893 applications to register in a similar period in the 2017 election, which equated to an average of 68,000 registrations per day.

The sheer numbers alone are not the only reason that the registration surge could make a difference.  It is also “who” is registering that catches your eye.  The Independent notes that

“The Electoral Reform Society said that of the applications made since the election was called in October, so far 2,125,064 applications (67 per cent of the total) were made by people aged 34 or under.  And as the cut-off for registration grows closer, an even greater proportion of young people are registering. On Monday (November 25th), 366,443 people applied to register, with 72 per cent of applications from people aged 34 or under.

No one believes that this tsunami of youth registration is a good sign for the Conservatives or the Brexiteers.

The snap election was called as the Conservatives led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson tried to force Brexit, the exit of Britain from the European Union, to a “hard” departure without an agreement with the Brussels.  Through various efforts both fair and foul, Johnson had tried to fast walk the mess through Parliament, even hornswoggling the Queen at different points, and was finally forced to an election to determine who represents the majority in the country, the Conservatives and their allies or the Labour and theirs.  Much is at stake not only within the EU, but whether Scotland and Northern Ireland remain in the United Kingdom as well.

In this context, young voters are critical, because their opposition to Brexit has been most intense there, while support has been strongest over 65.  In the United States our experience is that first time registrants are more likely to vote than others, so for the Conservatives this is worth worry.

The picture isn’t clear though.  The Election Commission says one-million registrants might be duplicates, because, if anything, the database in the UK is worse than the state by state patchwork quilt we have here.  Furthermore, the majority of cumulative votes could go with Labour, but like the US Electoral College, what matters is the vote in each constituency in Parliament, since that will determine whether Johnson and the Conservatives get their mandate to mayhem and rule or their walking papers.

Two more weeks will tell the story.  Registration is now history.  The vote will be worth watching.