Protesters march during a student rally in London on November 21, 2012 against increases in tuition fees. Photograph: Getty Images.
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We must not let individual voter registration disenfranchise students

The new system could have a huge effect in student-heavy marginals. Universities, councils and others must be aware of the dangers.

At the next election, the student voice must be heard. Under this government, students have seen tuition fees tripled, EMA scrapped and record high levels of youth unemployment. Many graduates will leave university with a lot of debt and little prospect of immediate work.

But there is a risk that many students will be unable to vote because of plans to individually register voters. Individual Electoral Registration requires those who are not already on a household register, and cannot be matched with DWP data, to register individually. As a transient population, moving from their family home to a new place of study, often without contact with the benefits system or paid employment, students are a particularly susceptible group.

For many enrolling at university for the first time, registering to vote is understandably not their top priority. There’s remembering to bring all your books, registering with a new GP, the stress that naturally comes from leaving home for the first time and, perhaps most importantly, all the other distractions of freshers' week! It is often only when the general election campaign starts that students will become engaged in the choices they face. By then, it may be too late. At present, electors can only register to vote up to 11 days before polling day. Many students may be disenfranchised.

This could have a huge effect on the general election result. Many of the seats that will decide who forms the next government have large full-time student populations. In Lancaster and Fleetwood, the sitting Tory MP has a majority of just 333. There are 14,334 students in the constituency. A vast majority of them will have to register individually or will be disenfranchised. The government’s own pilot shows that 99 per cent of Lancaster University will not be on the register unless each individual signs up.

In Cardiff North, the Conservative majority is 194 and the student population is 8,268. In Manchester Withington, the current Lib Dem has a majority of 1,894, but potentially faces a student backlash, with 15,761 living in his constituency. And it’s not just coalition-held marginals that could be threatened. My colleague Paul Blomfield, MP for Sheffield Central, has a majority of 165 and the highest student population in the country of 36,335.

Many have already seen the dangers of this on the horizon. Indeed, Paul is working with his local council in Sheffield and the university to ensure as many of the students in his constituency have a chance to vote. Where possible, the University and the Electoral Registration Officer is entwining student enrolment with voter registration. In my city of Liverpool, I am convening a meeting with the university and the Ccuncil this week to put in place plans to replicate this model. 

Across the country, universities, councils and student unions should be aware of the challenges individual registration represents. If they don’t do something about it, many students may turn up at the ballot box, determined to have their say, only to be turned away.  

Stephen Twigg is shadow minister for constitutional reform and MP for Liverpool West Derby

Stephen Twigg is shadow minister for constitutional reform and MP for Liverpool West Derby

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How the Democratic National Committee Chair contest became a proxy war

The two leading candidates represent the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders factions.

While in the UK this week attention has been fixed on the by-elections in Stoke-upon-Trent and Copeland, in the US political anoraks have turned their eyes to Atlanta, the capital city of the state of Georgia, and the culmination of the Democratic National Committee chairmanship election.

Democrats lost more than a President when Barack Obama left the White House - they lost a party leader. In the US system, the party out of power does not choose a solitary champion to shadow the Presidency in the way a leader of the opposition shadows the Prime Minister in the UK. Instead, leadership concentrates around multiple points at the federal, state and local level - the Senate Minority and House Minority Leaders’ offices, popular members of Congress, and high-profile governors and mayors.

Another focus is the chair of the national party committee. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is the formal governing body of the party and wields immense power over its organization, management, and messaging. Membership is exclusive to state party chairs, vice-chairs and over 200 state-elected representatives. The chair sits at the apex of the body and is charged with carrying out the programs and policies of the DNC. Put simply, they function as the party’s chief-of-staff, closer to the role of General Secretary of the Labour Party than leader of the opposition.

However, the office was supercharged with political salience last year when the then-chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, was exposed following a Russian-sponsored leak of DNC emails that showed her leadership favoured Hillary Clinton as the party’s presidential nominee to Bernie Sanders. Schultz resigned and Donna Brazile, former campaign manager for Al Gore in 2000, took over as interim chair. The DNC huddled in December to thrash out procedure for the election of a permanent replacement – fixing the date of the ballot for the weekend of February 24.

The rancour of the Democratic primaries last year, and the circumstances of Schultz’s resignation, has transformed the race into a proxy war between the Clinton and Sanders factions within the party. Frontrunners Tom Perez and Keith Ellison respectively act as standard bearers for the respective camps.

Both are proven progressives with impeccable records in grassroots-based organizing. However Perez’s tenure as President Obama’s Labor Secretary and role as a Hillary booster has cast him as the establishment candidate in the race, whereas Ellison’s endorsement of the Sanders campaign in 2016 makes him the pick of the radical left.

The ideological differences between the two may be overblown, but cannot be overlooked in the current climate. The Democrats are a party seemingly at war with its base, and out of power nationwide.

Not only are they in the minority in Congress, but more than a third of the Democrats in the House of Representatives come from just three states: California, Massachusetts, and New York. As if that weren’t enough, Democrats control less than a third of state legislatures and hold the keys to just sixteen governors’ mansions.

Jacob Schwartz, president of the Manhattan Young Democrats, the official youth arm of the Democratic Party in New York County, says that the incoming chair should focus on returning the party to dominance at every tier of government:

“The priority of the Democratic leadership should be rebuilding the party first, and reaching out to new voters second," he told me. "Attacking Donald Trump is not something the leadership needs to be doing. He's sinking his own ship anyway and new voters are not going to be impressed by more negative campaigning. A focus on negative campaigning was a big part of why Hillary lost.”

The party is certainly in need of a shake-up, though not one that causes the internecine strife currently bedevilling the Labour Party. Hence why some commentators favour Ellison, whose election could be seen as a peace offering to aggrieved Sanderistas still fuming at the party for undermining their candidate.

“There's something to be said for the fact that Ellison is seen as from the Bernie wing of the party, even though I think policy shouldn't be part of the equation really, and the fact that Bernie voices are the voices we most need to be making efforts to remain connected to. Hillary people aren't going anywhere, so Ellison gives us a good jumping off point overall,” says Schwartz.

Ellison boasts over 120 endorsements from federal and state-level Democratic heavyweights, including Senator Sanders, and the support of 13 labor unions. Perez, meanwhile, can count only 30 politicians – though one is former Vice-President Joe Biden – and eight unions in his camp.

However the only constituency that matters this weekend is the DNC itself – the 447 committee members who can vote. A simple majority is needed to win, and if no candidate reaches this threshold at the first time of asking additional rounds of balloting take place until a winner emerges.

Here again, Ellison appears to hold the edge, leading Perez 105 to 57 according to a survey conducted by The Hill, with the remainder split among the other candidates.

Don’t write Perez off yet, though. Anything can happen if the ballot goes to multiple rounds and the former Secretary’s roots in the party run deep. He claimed 180 DNC supporters in an in-house survey, far more than suggested by The Hill.

We’ll find out this weekend which one was closer to the mark.

Louie Woodall is a member of Labour International, and a journalist based in New York.