I am getting exasperated! I have been acting for a number of residents in St Helier No.1 District who “swear blind” as the expression goes, that they filled in their voter registration form and returned it to the Town Hall in person, yet are not currently registered to vote. If the Town Hall says they did not receive one’s voter registration form what does one do?
The answer is not very much. How can one prove that a form was delivered? I am not talking here about something lost in the post. This is hand delivered and passed across the counter to the clerk. The answer remains, not very much.
I have a personal anecdote from my own canvassing back in June of this year when I visited a housing estate and received a very sympathetic hearing from one man who said that both he and his daughters would be completing their pink coloured voter registration form (i.e. the one sent by the Parish to the occupier of each unit of accommodation) that very night, with a view to voting in October. When I checked the register of voters in late August I noted that this gentleman and his daughters were not registered. I found it so odd, especially as I had such positive indications from the man that he would be registering, that I went back his home. I arrived just as he was pulling up into the drive in his van. I questioned him and he confirmed that he had indeed filled the form in, got the daughters to sign and returned it to the Town Hall in person himself the following day or at least a few days later.
I told him he was not registered and naturally he was perplexed. I told him not to get furious but to complete a new form, get the daughters to sign it and that I would return it to the Town Hall for processing. That is precisely what happened and he and his daughters are registered to vote.
I also have several examples of cases where forms I submitted on behalf of those registered as part of general voter registration drives were simply not processed. Fortunately, I had retained photocopies as evidence. These copies were then duly processed.
So what is the lesson to be learnt? There must be a fundamental review of the process by which parishes register individuals to vote. If they cannot do the job efficiently then the States must centralise the process and appoint an island wide electoral registrar with adequate resources. That organ could then run democracy awareness programmes amongst islanders, including the mass registration of 16 year olds at school.
In St Helier No.1 District there are around 5000 registered to vote. I know from canvassing that at least a further 20% to 30% are not registered. This means between one or two thousand people are missing from the electoral roll. Working class housing estates, especially social housing, suffer most. Some households may well be ineligible, not having the requisite two years residence, but my experience indicates these are few. Examples would be those occupying premises under “J” category licences. The majority are working class people for whom politics and politicians is a matter of indifference or total exasperation. The latter category is by far the largest.
I spoke to the Portuguese lady who runs a nearby newsagents and she just exploded when I mentioned voting in elections in Jersey. Having been in the island for 36 years she was angry beyond discussion. I did not get a chance to ask her if she was registered to vote as she had no intention of legitimising by her vote something she considered a cesspit of excrement. The indifference of government and long unmet needs of the working class leads to disaffection.
No one takes seriously the high levels of voter abstention in the island and the implications this has for the legitimacy of governments and democracy generally. The decrepit and ancient methods must be reformed root and branch. It must be a priority for the immediate post election period. It might be my first Proposition to the States!