Britain's missing 2 million voters

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The Independent Online
Politicians' attempts to create election fever have failed. Nearly two million people who are eligible to vote are missing from the electoral register despite the impending general election and several high- profile campaigns to lure more people to the hustings.

Figures compiled by the Treasury and seen by The Independent show that 4.7 per cent of the adult population in England and Wales - equivalent to double that of Surrey - has not registered to vote.

Lack of political choice, increased checks on benefits claimants, and the rise in the transient student population were among reasons cited for the missing voters, which amounts to an average 3,654 people per constituency.

Others blamed the major parties for alienating whole sections of society, including young voters, ethnic groups and those with physical and mental disabilities.

Harry Barnes, the Labour MP for Derbyshire North East, said the figures represented a "serious democratic deficit". He has tabled an early day motion to raise the matter in parliament tomorrow.

He said: "Those missing in the greatest numbers are not a representative cross-section of society and this seriously affects election results and distorts opinion polls." The Treasury-compiled figures show huge discrepancies between districts where different socio-economic factors are at play.

Rural areas, such as the Isle of Wight and the North Yorkshire district of Ryedale, have managed 100 per cent registration of their adult populations.

Inner London districts, by contrast, have many thousands missing from the rolls. In Westminster, only 70 per cent of adults are registered to vote, followed by Kensington and Chelsea (78.3 per cent), Islington (81.9 per cent), and Hammersmith and Fulham (84.1 per cent). The lowest return of all is in Forest Heath, Suffolk, but the district's 68.4 per cent return, is a statistical blip caused by the large US Air Force population which is based in the small rural community but unable to vote.

The smallest returns in districts outside London are in Rushmoor, Hampshire (84.1 per cent), Richmondshire in Yorkshire (87.1 per cent), and Three Rivers, Hertfordshire (88.2 per cent).

Analysis of the missing voters by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys suggests that the highest proportions of missing voters are between 21 and 24 years old (21 per cent) and black people (24 per cent).

In the past, a shortfall in the number of registered voters has been ascribed to fear of being charged for poll tax, but new explanations are now emerging.

John Turner, deputy chairman of the Association of Electoral Administrators, said some multiple-occupancy homes had registered only one voter in order to claim the single person's rebate on council tax. "That can be worth hundreds of pounds in some areas," he said.

Mr Turner said that the surge in the student population had increased mobility among young people and further reduced voter registration.

The music industry's "Rock The Vote" campaign, which is backed by celebrities like Jo Brand and Eddie Izzard, the comedians, and Damon Albarn, the lead singer of Blur, has struggled to persuade young people that it is worth registering to vote.

Frustrated by the lack of progress since the campaign was launched in February, London's Ministry of Sound nightclub this week began a rival "Use Your Vote" campaign, which it claimed would be "less patronising".

Only 57 per cent of under-25s voted in 1992, down from 69 per cent in 1987.

There is great concern that other sections of the population are also being excluded from the political process.

A new report by Mencap has found that only 5 per cent of people with learning difficulties voted in 1992, and political parties ignored them. The registration system also makes it difficult for those without a permanent address to qualify to vote.