This week the Union of Brunel Students received the information that their proposal to have a polling station on campus was rejected by the cabinet member responsible for the polling station review.
The reason cited was the poor turnout of students in national elections. However, the Union of Brunel Students believes that if they made it easier for students to vote and become actively engaged with the election on our campus, they could see much improved voting figures. The election will fall in the exam period for most Brunel students. In this period, the prospect of leaving behind revision to walk a mile or more to the nearest polling station and back will not appeal to many students. It also leaves those trying to motivate others in a more difficult position.
The Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency is to be contested by Boris Johnson, and as such will attract considerable media attention in May 2015. It is Le Nurb's belief that Uxbridge will be one of the most contentious and reportable seats in the country, as the popularity and presence of Boris Johnson may provoke a concerted effort from Labour to deny him the seat. This makes the decision even more baffling, as it is within the interest of both the council, and the candidates to achieve the highest possible voter turnout. Uxbridge and South Ruislip had a turnout of 63.34% last time around, which was lower than the national average. We feel that reducing the voting prospects of 15,446 students is not a great start. National parties have a clear interest in the student vote, especially in such a potentially contentious seat.
The voting turnout at the last UK General Election was 65.1%, but only 44% of people aged 18-24 bothered to turn out – the lowest of any age group. We think that by making it easier for students to vote, and encourage them to do so in their place of study will increase that turnout considerably. But apparently our local authority disagrees.
In light of the cabinet member’s decision, the Student Union has agreed to a petition in order to gather the names of those in support of the idea. This will then be handed in to all councillors at the next meeting on Thursday 6th November 2014. In the Brunel ward for example, there are polling stations with a proposed electorate of around 2,000 and the total electorate size is around 9,500. Considerable numbers of this electorate are at the University, a large proportion live on campus, and almost all other local students are highly likely to visit the campus on Election Day.
There are various political groups on campus which will be attempting to increase student interest in politics and voting over the coming months, but this decision represents a huge obstacle. Our students aren’t paid to promote voting, but we want to create a vibrant political scene on campus – and our growing variety of political party societies and activist groups is testament to the recent efforts. We hope to work together to encourage all of our peers to get involved and vote on election day; this would be made much easier if students were walking out of their doors to be faced with a polling station. A great example of the effort from Brunel students is Rachael Farrington, who is the founder of www.votingcounts.org.uk, a site where young adults can find unbiased resources and guides them through the registration process.
The timescale we face means that we have less than a week to gather the names of students in a petition and show the council that our votes and voices count. We have enough motivated people here to achieve a campus that is actively involved in the democratic process. If we succeed in changing the decision of the council Brunel Students can also look forward to many participatory events on campus in the lead up to the election, including live debates, radio shows and visits from MPs.
To sign the petition urging the council to reconsider, please visit: www.change.org. The Petition reads:
This General Election is potentially the most important in a generation. Whoever gets elected will be responsible for ensuring the safety and stability of this country. Students are a key voting demographic, and every effort should be made by local authorities to encourage students to participate and exercise their right to vote.
The Cabinet member on Hillingdon Council responsible for the polling station review has decided that because students invididual electoral registration is low, it is not worth putting a polling station on the University campus. Instead of opting to try to increase student IER, he has removed the closest one to our students which will have a detrimental effect on student turnout in the general election.
This isn't about party politics, but instead grabbing this opportunity to lead the way and set an example for all local authorities across this country. To promote the message that we value our students as residents in our community, and we will do what we can to engage them and show them how important it is.
The General Election falls in the middle of the University exam period, and voting needs to be made more accessible to those who we are trying to engage.
Be the change we all talk about. Put faith in the student residents of this community and create a polling station on the Brunel University campus.
This article was updated at 13:30 P.M. 01/11/2014