On extending the voter registration deadline for the EU referendum

Earlier in the month, the decision was made to extend the deadline for registering to vote ahead of the EU referendum by 24 hours.

As midnight approached on Wednesday 8 June, many people missed out on the opportunity to register as the website was unable to withstand a late surge of online applications. The registration deadline was therefore put forward to midnight on 9 June.

On one level, this decision can be viewed as a positive because higher rates of voter registration will hopefully mean that more people will go to the polls as the country reaches an important juncture. Yet to those who missed the boat, I would have been inclined to say “tough, you shouldn’t have a second chance.” As is the case with elections, there is a date set several weeks before polling day which one must register to vote by if they haven’t done so already. This date had been established for some time and could have been discovered by anyone via a quick Google search (or via Bing, or Ask, depending on your search engine of choice.)

The registration process itself takes roughly 5-10 minutes to complete and requires you to provide your address and national insurance number. Simple.

If there are people who felt that there is at least a reasonable possibility that they will vote, yet were not registered and missed the deadline, then surely it is legitimate to ask the following: how serious were they about voting anyway?

Many people lead busy and hectic lives and it can be a struggle to make time for things. Yet in an age of smartphones and widespread internet coverage it has never been easier to register to vote. If you’re serious about voting and wish, to use that clichéd phrase, to “make your voice heard” then you will make sure that you will get the registration form done, and done in advance of the deadline. There is undoubtedly more at stake in this referendum than in general elections because every vote counts, and, as we’re reminded, it could well be a once in a generation/lifetime opportunity.

I’m not someone who gets sentimental about voting. I will always vote, and feel a duty as a citizen to do so, but I understand why many people don’t bother because most votes make little or no difference to electoral outcomes. It is for this reason that I am in favour of placing a ‘none of the above’ category on all ballot papers or providing space on the ballot for voters to nominate, or ‘write in’ a candidate or party which isn’t listed on the ballot, or, where if they want, they can write ‘none’. Either way, this would give those who cannot bring themselves to vote for any party or candidate a chance to play a more meaningful part in the process than by spoiling their ballot or staying at home.

To repeat my earlier point, deadlines are set for a reason and we have to stick to them. However after the deadline was extended, it is my hope that more people turn out on 23 June in a race that looks like it could go down to the wire.

(That is, of course, most of them have the sense to vote the way I’ll be voting!)