Ignore Russell Brand and vote, Bite The Ballot campaign urges young

A US-style voter registration drive is tackling political apathy head on
  • @janemerrick23

When Russell Brand last week condemned the "lies, treachery and deceit of the political class" as he told Jeremy Paxman he wanted a revolution, he may have thought he was speaking for Britain's apathetic youth. But a campaign to urge young people to vote has condemned the 38-year-old's outburst as "just wrong".

Bite The Ballot, which aims to replicate the success of Rock The Vote in the United States, says as soon as teenagers are told their views are worth hearing, they become engaged in politics.

With only one in four 18- to 24-year-olds bothering to vote, Bite The Ballot has come up with radical ways to add names to the electoral roll. And, of course, social media plays a central part. The campaign is launching its own version of Twitter's blue tick verification, offering digital badges to people who register to vote and organise political debates among fellow pupils or students. These badges will be displayed on all social media platforms. The more badges a person collects, the more credits they accumulate, which can be exchanged for prizes such as V Festival tickets.

Mike Sani, a teacher who founded Bite The Ballot three years ago at the age of 27 after becoming frustrated at the lack of engagement among his pupils, posted a YouTube video in response to Brand's outburst on Newsnight. Sani said: "I came from a school where I wasn't educated in politics. I taught at a school where young people were not educated in politics. Obviously, yes, we begin to feel powerless and in many cases angry, but we need to ask ourselves why – why do we feel powerless and why do we feel angry? Because we are not told about anything and we are not educated on it.You said there's no point in voting because we tried that already – we haven't."

Sani said only half of young people are registered to vote, and only half of those actually use that right at the ballot box: "Everyone needs to take power, register to vote, become a vote worth winning, first and foremost, then start to have the conversations about the things that matter to you."

Bite The Ballot is planning to team up with Rock The Vote, which has enrolled 5 million young people on the electoral register in the US since 1990. Bite The Ballot is calling for a British Voter Mobilisation Bill, and last week 30 MPs and peers formed the first all-party parliamentary group on voter registration. On 5 February, designated National Voter Registration Day, the campaign will attempt to sign up more than 300,000 people in one day and break a British record. The National Union of Students is working with Bite The Ballot to get its 600 unions involved.

Anyone aged 16 and over can register to vote, although they will not be able to cast their vote until 18. Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg both want the voting age to be reduced to 16.

Dom Anderson, NUS Vice President, said: "We are really excited to be joining forces with Bite the Ballot for National Voter Registration Day and to work together to ensure the 7 million students we represent are able to both get on the electoral roll and make their voices heard. For us, this project is furthering our commitment to ensuring the realities of students' lives are represented in the democratic process. Students' votes could make a decisive difference in dozens of constituencies."

Bite The Ballot is developing the digital badges through the safe school site Makewaves". The Bite The Ballot badges will be available to 4,500 schools: a potential 70,000 users can download them. The badges are recognised by many employers in job applications.

Sharon Middleton of Makewaves said: "Over the past 10 months digital badges have proven to hold a high degree of currency for young people engaging in activities on Makewaves - much more than we imagined.

"This would be a fantastic application of the Open Badge technology, rewarding and motivating young people in relevant and engaging ways."