Increase in student voters could hit Lib Dem control

THE chief executive of York Council has vowed to actively pursue students who are not registered to vote in the city in a move which could impact on the Liberal Democrat administration in this May's local elections.

Kersten England, who as returning officer is responsible for overseeing voting, was speaking in response to allegations that council cutbacks could mean a regular pre-election canvassing campaign due to take place next month could be axed despite nearly 10 per cent of households not returning voter registration forms.

While the 8,484 properties have had been carried over to the new register for one more year and are eligible to vote in 2011, if they do not submit the required information next year they risk being deleted.

Ms England confirmed the council was looking at cutting the canvass due to it being poor value for money but said instead it was planning to pursue a more direct campaign of targeting hot spots where people are not registered to vote.

The city's large student population, an estimated 15,000 people, is one of the areas thought to have a poor record of voter registration.

Harnessing that vote could have an impact on the York Liberal Democrats as a result of the unpopularity of the coalition Government's rise in tuition fees.

Ms England said: "A final decision on York Council's pre-election registration campaign has not yet been made as a postcode analysis of potential under-registration is under way.

"I'm planning to launch an election campaign in early February and we are looking at all sorts of different ways we can do this. We are thinking about how to take a more modern approach.

"I'm very happy to go on to both campuses and run a series of road shows, events, and getting reminders on university radio shows. We are also looking to use Facebook and Twitter.

"You will always get people who have never voted in their lives and will never intend to do so – a persistent percentage will never register.

"It is a debate about how much expense do you go to. I would rather take a targeted approach.

"If the money is needed I will find it to get people registered – exercising your democratic right is too important not to. I will find the money if it is deemed necessary."

Coun Andrew Waller, leader of York Council, welcomed the plans to ensure as many voters were registered as possible as he announced Liberal Democrat candidates for the Holgate ward – a key election battleground populated by a large number of students, where the Liberal Democrats were only 17 votes behind Labour at the 2007 local elections.

"In local elections it is very much the contact between local candidates and the electorate and what people see candidates doing on their behalf," he said.