Thousands died to earn your right to vote – now you must exercise it

The only cure for the parlous state of our democracy is for reasonable people to participate whenever they are asked, and ensure that voter turnout is congruent with the scale of the question put to them

Citizens must register to vote by 7 June to participate in the EU referendum on 23 June
Citizens must register to vote by 7 June to participate in the EU referendum on 23 June

Midnight tonight is the deadline for you to register to vote in the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, which takes place on June 23. If you are not yet registered, The Independent implores you to do so, and to make your voice heard in our fragile democracy, whichever way you choose to vote on the future direction of this country.

Throughout the nearly three decades since we were launched as a newspaper, this institution has done more than any of our rivals to stand up for democracy, and to highlight the manifold threats to it.

We have campaigned vigorously for reform of Britain’s ludicrous, anachronistic, and deeply unjust voting system. We have chronicled the evolution of the Lords from reasonably functional second chamber to a monstrously over-bloated and venal place which is nothing short of corrupt (after all, you can buy your way into it, one of the most embarrassing things about being British today).

We have argued the case for a radical and brave approach to free speech, in defiance of the willingness of censors and minorities to promote a victimhood mentality in claiming to be offended at the slightest provocation to their ideology or superstition. And, with our tinge of republicanism, disdain for the aristocracy, and distaste for the expanding and unaccountable power of unelected bureaucrats, we have done our utmost to give meaning to the phrase ‘power to the people’.

It is in this very spirit that we ask that you ensure you are registered to vote today.

This editorial is not an endorsement of one side or another in the debate. That said, it is true that those on the Remain side are more worried about turnout, and therefore doing their best to encourage voters who they fear are lazy to get into the ballot box. But given the central pillar of the argument made for Brexit, by those who espouse that position is the importance of democracy, they too must presumably be in favour of high participation rates by an awakened electorate.

Ironically, the EU referendum has shown very clearly why calling referendums is often dangerous and counter-productive. This may seem a surprising, or even counter-intuitive, position for democrats. If you want to give power to the people, why not trust them to vote on the big questions? The past few months has provided ample evidence.

Referendums have the capacity to paralyse government. Every day that the likes of Cameron, Gove, Osborne and Boris Johnson are campaigning on the EU is a day they’re not, for instance, fighting to improve education for the poor. Referendums also allow fringe parties and interests an avenue into the mainstream, where they often don’t belong – especially if turnout is low. And, as The Economist argued recently, “because referendums treat each issue in isolation, they allow voters to ignore the trade-offs inherent in policy choices and can thus render government incoherent.”

But, having been called, it is incumbent upon all citizens to participate in this referendum, if only to maximise the chance that mainstream views come to the fore, and extreme views don’t gain unjustified sway. That is why we ask you to make sure you are registered.

British democracy is in a parlous state. Aside from our broken electoral system and farcical Lords, the weakness of Labour means we effectively have one-party government in England and Scotland, with all the shameless gerrymandering that comes with it. The only cure is for reasonable people to participate whenever they are asked, and ensure that voter turnout is congruent with the scale of the question being asked, whether in a General Election or in a plebiscite such as this.

Within living memory, thousands died so that you may put a cross on a piece of paper in a ballot box. We won’t betray them. Will you?

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