So, how come loads of young people have ended up on the electoral register, without them applying to go on it, or even with their knowledge?

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According to news reports, thousands of students are thought to have been put on the electoral register without their knowledge.

At the moment it looks like around 850 students, some under the age of 18, had been placed on the Plymouth City Council (PCC) electoral roll without those concerned applying to be on it, or having any knowledge of it.

But it seems 352 of them are known to have already received polling cards.

Now, some people might not see a problem with this. But very importantly, since a rule change in, I think 2014, the only person who can legally apply to get someone on the electoral register, is the person themselves.

It is illegal for someone else to do it, which in these data sensitive times is an extremely sensible stance to take.

But anyone over the age of 16 can apply to be placed on the electoral register, but they won't be able to vote in a General Election until they reach 18 years of age.

But it also turns out that some students who are under 18 have been sent polling cards, with Plymouth Council saying:

"An issue came to light last week when we were notified that some 17-year-olds in the Plymouth Sutton and Devonport constituency had received poll cards despite not yet being eligible to vote."

And, now that this news has emerged, you have to wonder how widespread this practice really is.

And the other really important question is, if the students didn't apply to vote then where did the data come from to get them on the register?

So this is more than just an electoral issue it is also a data protection issue, something I'll touch on later.

And the Sun who first ran the story says that "Universities and Labour councils have been accused of registering thousands of students to vote without their knowledge in a bid to boost left-wing turnout".

Three South West Conservative Party election candidates have contacted the Electoral Commission and asked that a full investigation be conducted, as there are suspicions that this might not be an isolated incident.

According to the reports, Plymouth Council has owned up to some sort of 'procedural error' that led to student information being erroneously uploaded onto its electoral roll without the permission of those students.

But the Mail reports that:

"The same council was investigated over the same issue earlier this year, when 3,000 students were said to have appeared on the electoral roll without having registered."

Defence Minister Johnny Mercer told the Sun:

"My fear is many councils and universities might also be doing this.

"Where seats are held or lost with just double digit numbers, this practice could have a strategic impact in the outcome of elections."

And he also Tweeted:

"Really disappointed that, again, Plymouth City Council have registered students to vote en masse without their consent.

"I want as many people to vote as possible, but don't believe in these practices which are inevitably open to abuse, and are not legal."

Now you do have to ask exactly what these 'procedural errors' by Plymouth City Council are, don't you?

Especially as it seems there has been a re-occurrence of them.

Plymouth City Council put out a statement, in which it said it had 'identified the cause of the problem' and also said that:

"As a result of this we carried out a rigorous review of the data used to compile the register. This has highlighted an issue related to some of the data we have used as part of our ongoing effort to ensure young people can vote in line with national best practice."

But I can see no indication at all of what the actual cause of the problem is. Nor any clue as to exactly where that data 'used to compile the register' originated from.

But they do say that it is not the fault of the universities and that:

"We have also identified 635 students on the register who have not completed an Invitation to Register as they are required to do."

So, where did that data come from then?

It either had to be supplied in some form by a university, or it had to be transferred from another council system and then put into the electoral register.

Or worse still, it had to come from another outside source.

I had initially thought it could have been pulled across from the council tax register, but it seems that students are mostly exempt from paying council tax so wouldn't generally appear on it.

This for me therefore raises all sorts of data protection issues, especially where those under 18 are involved.

And bear in mind that election candidates and their electoral teams may have already been sent their copies of the electoral roll to help them in their campaigning – copies that could contain data they should not have access to.

And remember that there are two electoral rolls, one of which is the secure full register and the other is the public extract called the 'open register'. And this is used by all manner of people from charities to advertisers to debt collectors and importantly your name will be in it unless you opt out – so a big question is, have any of these students names appeared on that open register?

So this is not just a serious Electoral Commission issue, it is probably also a serious matter for the Information Commissioners Office (ICO).

And now for a general election Westminster Voting Intentions update from YouGov.

The latest poll shows that although the Tories are still enjoying a double digit lead over Labour, this has shrunk dramatically from 17 points just four days ago back to 12 points in yesterday's poll.

As you can see from this graph showing the results of the last five polls with the latest poll indicated by the blue bar on the left of each party grouping, the Conservative Party has shed three points to now lie on 42%, while the Labour Party has gained two to reach 30%

The Lib Dems are still lying stagnant on 15% and The Brexit Party stays stuck on 4%.

Are we about to see 2017 all over again as Labour slowly reels the Tories in, so ending up with yet another hung parliament?

Sources:

https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/10380631/students-registered-to-vote-without-knowledge/

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7705563/Labour-council-illegally-registered-thousands-students-vote.html

https://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/news/plymouth-news/plymouth-city-council-fresh-row-3556365

https://yougov.co.uk/topics/politics/articles-reports/2019/11/19/political-trackers-18-19-nov-update

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