Sophie Wilkinson | Contributing Editor | Thursday, 7 May 2015

Meet The Girls Who Just Couldn’t Vote

Meet The Girls Who Couldn't Vote Today

The Debrief: We spoke to five girls who, despite their best efforts, just couldn't vote today...

This year, millions of people have turned out to vote in what is said to be Britain’s closest election in decades. Labour and the Conservatives are neck and neck at 33%, and, faced with the prospect of a hung parliament (where no one party gains an overall majority of seats) again, and further austerity cuts, the general public feel pretty obliged and agitated to vote, with a predicted turnout of 70%.

And many young people – including women like you - who didn’t vote at the last election, have changed their minds, with 14% increase in young voter registrations since the last election. Regardless of their reasons whys: parties’ vows, broken promises and gimmicks and even Russell Brand’s revolutionary desires u-turning on their Cuban heels, that means 70% of young people have registered to vote. A grand total of 6.8 million young people should be voting today. If every single one of them casts their vote, this will be the highest youth turnout (70%) since 1964, according to youth charity vInspired. This is huge.

However, we’ve heard that many people who did all they needed to – ticked all the boxes – didn’t actually get to cast their vote - they didn’t get to put a cross in the ballot box, the one which matters the most. Here are some women whose democratic right was entirely removed by an admin error, or at least impinged upon to the point where you might just wonder ‘why on earth bother?’

The girl who dared to emigrate. For a bit.

Clare Vooght, 27, is a freelance journalist who went to Sydney, Australia, to work for a couple of months. She knew she’d be away for the election so sent off a form to register for a postal vote in early March: ‘I did everything by the book, as directed by my local council, months in advance, knowing that I would be out of the country on Election Day’

However? Her postal vote never arrived. She called the council, and they said there was ‘nothing we can do.’ They then sent her an emergency proxy voter form meant for disabled voters. She says she knows other British ex-pats in Australia who haven’t been able to vote.

‘I pay taxes and take an interest in news and politics. As an average person, voting is the one thing that gives me a voice in the way my country is run. Taking that right away seems hugely unfair. I’m self employed, I take the time and make a huge effort to pay my taxes properly every January, and I'm incredibly disappointed the council could make the time to send off a postal vote in decent time for it to arrive in Australia so I could vote.’

Clare’s constituency is a swing seat of Bermondsey and Old Southwark, where Simon Hughes, who’s been a minister there for 22 years, faces a tough battle from Labour candidate Neil Coyne. Every single vote counts – and should be counted.

The girl who's just not on the list

Fran Marchesi, 26, lives in Hackney and her constituency is Hackney North and Stoke Newington. She registered to vote in April, but thought something was a bit iffy when, one day before the election, her flatmate had received a ballot paper but she hadn’t. After calling the council, she says: ‘They told me I had come up as red on the system saying that they needed more information from me, ‘They’re just claiming they sent me a letter requesting this information – but the letter mysteriously never arrived.’

‘As far as I can see I did everything right. It’s important for everybody to participate and have a voice. I was really livid about having that option taken away because of someone else's admin fuck up, because it makes you feel quite second rate, despite being a UK citizen my whole life.’

Many Hackney voters who didn’t receive their ballots turned up at Hackney Town Hall to sort out their vote this morning. The council are reportedly telling would-be voters they cannot cast theirs because of a ‘glitch’ in IT systems.

The girl whose house just vanished

Alex Pike, 22, is a neuroscience student at Merton College, Oxford. Her and her housemates registered to vote in their constituency of Oxford East and got their polling cards at their address (it’s number 1A). But when they got to the polling station, they found their names had been struck off the register.

‘After a number of phone calls we find out that our names have been lumped together with the residents of number 1, who were sent a confirmation letter and they had struck our names off, as we don't live at number 1. Now, the system didn't confirm this with us - at no point were we contacted to ask if we've moved or no longer live there, and we were just assumed to be no longer resident.’

‘I spent about 2 hours on the phone and physically staking out the town hall to have us added back on, when I am a full time student and need to work.’

After all that, Alex did get to vote. But not without having to go majorly out of her way.

‘So many people have seriously suffered for me to have my vote today; and also that many people (especially women) are still not allowed to vote in other nations freely and fairly. I have the right to have a say, and I want to use that. An individual vote is something that may not matter in terms of the statistics or the maths of an election, but it matters to me as an expression of how I feel about how I'm governed. I'm very relieved to be able to vote, but I worry.’

‘All someone would have to do to remove the votes of another would be to cross their name off the confirmation letter. If an abusive husband gets to the post first, he could remove his family's right to vote and absolutely nobody would check on it. This is incredibly sinister and a basic flaw in a system that is supposed to allow everyone to vote easily.’

The girl who studies away from home

Florence Robson, 23, is a writer who moved to London to work full time in September last year. She encountered a hurdle that many young people – students and renters, especially – have had to negotiate while registering to vote. She’s from North Dorset, but studies in London, living in the constituency of Leyton and Wanstead. She decided to vote ‘back home’, but knew she wouldn’t be there on the day, so signed up to do a postal vote. But she never received her ballot paper.

‘It’s effectively prevented me from voting. There was no way I could get there in person today.

‘I'm very aware of what a privilege it is to have a voice in political matters - and, as a woman, how many people fought to make sure that I get a chance to use it. I also feel that to be a feminist and not to vote is completely hypocritical.’

Not being able to vote today might not affect her constituency much – it’s pretty much a Conservative safe seat. But that’s not the point: ‘I’m very frustrated and also a bit embarrassed when seeing everyone encourage others to vote - like somehow it's my fault that I haven't.’

The girl who kind of mucked up a bit

Christie Garrett, 22, who works in PR, moved back home after going to Bournemouth Uni. ‘Home’ is Rugby and Bulkington in the West Midlands and whenever a vote came around, even while she was in Bournemouth she would vote at 'home' via a postal vote. Now she actually lives there? She can’t. She accidentally signed up online for another postal vote and now can't find her ballot paper to take to the polling station and sort out when she gets home after work. Ok, so that’s her error, not the system's, but she admits this: ‘This sounds like a massive oversight on my part – it is! – but I can’t help but feel if online voting was made a thing, silly mistakes like this just would not happen.’

And we think we have the answer there. The steadfast existence of the stuffy old unelected House of Lords and the failed quest for AV (which would have seen the voting system rejigged so that people could vote by preference and never again would we get a hung parliament) show, election reform is hard won.

But in a country that can’t seem to make its mind up on just about anything right now, it would be great if we could all agree that the days of postal voting – the toing and froing of which has caused so many muck-ups this year – should be over. We’ve even come to wonder if, maybe, voting systems have always been pretty shoddy, it’s just we never heard the horror stories of people’s rights being taken away because previous elections pre-dated widespread use of social media.

Regardless of who wins and whenever that win is announced, let it be known that making democracy slicker and digitised will hurt just about no-one.

Like this? You might also be interested in:

Can't Bring Yourself To Vote For Any Party On May 7th? Here's Why You Need To Spoil Your Ballot Paper

Why The Hell Can't We Vote Online?

Which Parties Want Young People To Vote?

Follow Sophie on Twitter @sophwilkinson

Tags: FFS News, Pure Politics, General Election 2015