Electoral are turning to the world's largest social networking site to help persuade tens of thousands of young adults to register to vote on 6 May. From tomorrow, every Facebook user who logs on to his or her homepage will be asked if they are on the electoral roll. If they are not, they will be redirected to a registration page.
The initiative has been prompted by research suggesting that 56 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds – many of whom are students – will not be able to vote next month. However, a very high proportion of the same age group uses Facebook regularly: as many as nine in ten students stay in touch with friends through social networking sites.
The Electoral Commission has traditionally used newspapers, magazines, radio and television to drive up the numbers of people on the electoral roll. Social networking sites did not exist at the time of the last election in 2005.
Richard Allan, Facebook's director of policy, said its 23 million British users were drawn from every age group and ethnic background. "We are uniquely placed to reach unregistered voters and to ensure no one who wants to vote, and is entitled to do so, misses out on the chance to have their say," he said.
Students are entitled to register either at their term address or their home address. People who have moved home, even if they remained within the same constituency, have to re-register. Unregistered voters have until April 20 to add their names to the electoral roll.
An estimated 37 per cent of registered people aged 18 to 24 voted at the 2005 election and 39 per cent at the 2001 election. The overall turnout at the last election was 61 per cent, the numbers increasing among older groups of voters.