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Voter Participation

Volume 507: debated on Thursday 11 March 2010

2. What steps the Electoral Commission plans to take to maximise voter participation at the forthcoming general election. (321506)

The commission informs me that, to encourage voter registration ahead of the general election, it will run a multi-media campaign using television, radio, press and online advertising. That activity will be targeted at the groups that are less likely to be registered, including young people, students, certain ethnic minority communities, service personnel and UK citizens living overseas.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his answer, but does he agree that although it is not illegal not to vote, it is illegal not to give the registration officer the necessary information? Have we not have reached the point at which we should marry up the two?

The House would have to consider that issue, and it would involve a change in the law. The Electoral Commission is always in the marketplace for interesting ideas, and I shall make sure it is aware of the hon. Gentleman’s representations, but in the end it will be a matter for this House.

I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to column 288 at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s questions, when it was pointed out that the Army Families Federation has carried out trials showing that the majority of troops serving overseas will be unable to vote. In order to maximise voter participation, will my hon. Friend speak again to the Electoral Commission and take on board the point that I have made before, which is that there should be one registration when people join the armed forces and an encouragement to cast proxy votes, so that when they serve their country abroad, which involves the possibility of dying for their country, they have the opportunity to vote?

That is a very important matter, and the Electoral Commission is extremely alive to it. The commission is working closely with the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Defence, Royal Mail, the British Forces Post Office and electoral administrators to ensure that everything is done to improve the situation. Given the tight time scales involved in exercising a postal vote once a general election is called, my hon. Friend makes an extremely important point that proxy voting may be the right answer. The commission is certainly aware of that.