If you were just about to walk down to your local polling station to vote and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came on TV, what would you do?
Journalist and presenter Rick Edwards, best known for presenting T4, addressed the difficulty of getting young people to vote in a TED talk in parliament earlier this month, after he found that his girlfriend’s sister chose Harry over voting during the local elections earlier this year.
In his talk, Edwards presented five smart ways to get young people voting in UK elections:
1. Online voting
“Voting should be online. It’s crazy that in 2015 we’re expecting young people to go and queue up to tick a box on a bit of paper behind a curtain in a village hall.” To those who argue that voting online is susceptible to fraud, Edwards said: “Really? You’re happy to bank online, but not vote?”
2. Compulsory voting for first-time voters
“This is about forming the voting habit early.”
3. A “none of the above” tickbox option
“Not voting gets ignored. But a ‘none of the above’ vote has to be counted and has to be taken notice of.”
4. Voting advice applications
These are cards that spell out what the parties stand for. Voting advice applications are already commonplace across other countries in Europe. “I often hear from young people that they don’t vote because they can’t differentiate between the main parties. What people need is a place to start, which is where voter advice applications come in and provide an entry point.”
5. Better representation of young people in politics
Edwards argues that we need more young people like Labour Haringey councillor Adam Jogee in politics.
Celebrities have also showed their support for his talk.
Edwards told BuzzFeed that he became “passionate about tackling the insidious problem of ever-decreasing youth votership” through his work on Free Speech, the youth-skewed BBC3 political debate show.
He realised that the most useful approach in his talk would be to offer practical solutions, “rather than simply pontificate on the whys and hows and whats of the situation”.
Edwards said the response to the talk has been overwhelmingly positive, and now his attention has turned to trying to implement some, or all, of his solutions.
He added: “I’ve been thrilled that so many different young people and organisations and charities have got in touch to let me know that they are already doing lots to deal with this pressing issue.”
Edwards also aims to persuade MPs to support his campaign ideas, and says he’s “convinced that the simple act of backing online voting would in itself be a vote-winner amongst the young”. He’s also designing a prototype of a voting advice application that he’s hoping to get high-profile support for.
He noted that some of his ideas will be more difficult to implement than others, specifically the “None of the Above” option. “The electoral reform side of things is, unsurprisingly, a more difficult proposition. The crushing AV referendum defeat in 2011 means that another, similar vote in the near future is pretty unlikely. But nevertheless, I intend to sit down with the Electoral Commission and get their views.”
So what is Edwards’ message to young people? “There is a lot to do, so if anyone wants to help – feel free! Get in touch with me at @rickedwards1. And get involved with #SwingtheVote, a campaign that I’ve been working on with youth charity vInspired.”
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