A meeting of Leeds City Council’s Strategy and Resources Scrutiny Board today (Monday) heard how the number of registered voters in Leeds fell from 560,303 in December 2017, to just 552,977 in December 2018.
It was added by a council officer that the number of registered voters in the city was around 580,000 at the time of the EU referendum in June 2016.
One of the reasons given for the fall by council officers was the difficulty in “block-registering” students living in the city due to new European privacy rules, as well as a drop-off in those who otherwise would “never ever vote” who registered especially for the EU referendum.
On EU registration, a council officer told the meeting that registration “touched 580,000” in June 2016, adding: “What came out of the woodwork then was people who never, ever, ever vote wanted to have a say in that.”
A report by council officers suggested that the subsequent drop between 2017 and 2018 was due to to the new GDPR privacy laws, meaning the electoral registration officer was no longer able to “block add” students to the register using information from Universities. This means the service has to instead write out to each individual student inviting them to register. It added that the response to these invitations was low.
Coun James Lewis, the council’s deputy leader and head of resources, suggested high-profile votes, such as the referendum and 2017 general election may have had a hand in student registrations.
He added: “There are campus stats on elections over time. A ward like Headingley had five or six thousand people registered over such a short period of time.”
A question was also asked as to why students were not responding to the letters.
The officer responded: “It is a legal requirement to respond to the invitations, but it would cost the council more to chase them up than the value of getting them on the register would be.
“There is nothing done currently, either locally or nationally, to see if people are voting both at their home address and university address.”
It was also remarked that more needed to be done to encourage Eastern Europeans living in the city to register to vote in the European elections.