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Page last updated at 14:08 GMT, Sunday, 18 April 2010 15:08 UK

Election 2010: Deadline looms for registering to vote

By Will Smale
Political reporter, BBC News

Ballot box
People have until Tuesday to register to vote

The day of the general election may be less than three weeks away, but for an estimated 3.5 million people an equally important date is looming.

This Tuesday - 20 April - is the deadline for registering to be able to vote.

Anyone whose name is not on the electoral roll by then, will not be able to cast their ballot on 6 May.

With the reputation of MPs taking a battering over the past year in the face of the expenses scandal, it may be understandable that some people are half-hearted about voting in this election.

But Andy Williamson of the Hansard Society - a charity that aims to encourage greater public involvement in politics - believes people are only making matters worse if they don't vote.

By abdicating your opportunity to vote, you are abdicating your chance to be part of the country's decision making process
Andy Williamson, Hansard Society

"Many people now feel very, very disconnected from politics," says Mr Williamson, director of the digital democracy programme at the charity.

"They have a strong feeling that their voice doesn't count and they don't have a say. But if you don't vote, then you certainly compound this problem.

"Instead it is really simple - we get one opportunity every five years or so to vote, and everything that happens in between [in Parliament] is a result of that vote."

He adds: "By abdicating your opportunity to vote, you are abdicating your chance to be part of the country's decision-making process."

Ashok Viswanathan, spokesman for Operation Black Vote, the organisation that encourages ethnic minorities to vote, agrees.

"Parliament currently still remains very much a white, male, middle class, middle-aged preserve," he says.

"Until everyone else gets more involved in politics it will remain the same. Voting in the general election may only be a part of the process of increasing change, but it is an important part of this process in terms of being an active citizen."

'Encouraging'

Registering to vote is a relatively simple process - you have to fill out a form with your name, age and address, then sign it and post it off to the electoral services department of your local authority.

Person voting
If you don't register by Tuesday, you won't get to back a candidate

The Electoral Commission - the independent Parliamentary body that encourages people to vote - has an electronic version of the form available to download and print off from its About My Vote website.

It automatically adds the address of the electoral services department of a person's local authority, but you do still need a stamp and envelope.

While an estimated 3.5 million people still haven't registered to vote, the commission says that 250,000 people have downloaded the voter registration form from the About My Vote website over the past month.

A spokeswoman for the commission said more than 40% of those people were in the 17 to 25 age bracket, which she said was "very encouraging" given this is the age group most likely not to register.

She said the number of young people visiting the About My Vote website had been boosted by the commission teaming up with Facebook to set up a "Democracy UK" page linking to the About My Vote website.

The voter registration forms are also available directly from each local authority across the UK, and in most cases can be downloaded and printed off their websites.

'Early as possible'

The commission spokeswoman said people should get their registration forms into their local authority by 1700BST.

Postal vote
Tuesday is also the deadline to apply for postal votes

"What we do strongly advise is that the forms are returned as early as possible on the Tuesday, and obviously better still, before the final day," she says.

Some local authorities may also accept returned registration forms in person, or via fax, but it is best to check in advance. E-mail is not allowed - to prevent election fraud.

The spokeswoman warned that people should not assume they are registered to vote because they pay their council tax. And that they should especially check that they are registered if they have moved home since the autumn.

People can use websites such as 192.com to check whether they are registered.

However, 192.com says its list was only updated until the end of March, and it doesn't include the names of people who have opted out of the version of the electoral register that is made publicly available.

Only your local authority will be able to tell you if you are definitely registered.

No ID needed

Once the Tuesday deadline for voter registration is passed, the local authorities will then start to post out everyone's polling card from Wednesday, 21 April.

You do not need to present your polling card when you go to vote, though, and neither do you need to take any form of identification with you - unless you will be voting in Northern Ireland.

The deadline to register with your local authority for a postal vote is also Tuesday, 20 April, with the postal votes again due to start being sent out to people from 21 April. The deadline to apply for a proxy vote is Tuesday, 27 April.

Postal votes then need to be returned to the electoral services departments of local authorities before the 10pm end of voting on 6 May. Those returned after that time will not be counted.



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