March 3, 2010 / 3:34 PM / 10 years ago

Voter registration low among youth, minorities

LONDON (Reuters) - More than 3.5 million Britons, many of them young people and members of ethnic minorities, will miss out on a chance to vote in a crucial election this year because of flaws in the registration system, a report said on Wednesday.

Voters leave a polling station in Leicester, June 4, 2009. REUTERS/Darren Staples

The Electoral Commission said research in eight areas had shown that 56 percent of people aged 17 to 24-years-old were not registered to vote. Among people from ethnic minority communities, the figure was 31 percent.

In the population as a whole, only 8-9 percent of people were not registered, according to the most recent available data, published in 2005. The report did not provide a new figure but said trends seen locally suggested it may have risen.

“A UK general election can be called at any time, and there might only be a few days to register to vote in time, once it has been called,” Jenny Watson, chair of the Electoral Commission, said in a statement.

A general election must take place by June 3. It is up to Prime Minister Gordon Brown to pick the date.

Financial markets are watching the election closely because it comes at a time when Britain is struggling to emerge from a deep recession and its mounting debt pile is worrying investors.

EXPENSES SCANDAL

The Labour Party is behind the Conservatives in the opinion polls, although the gap has been narrowing since January and the outcome is uncertain.

There have been fears of widespread disengagement from politics in the wake of a huge scandal last year about dubious and extravagant expense claims filed by MPs.

But a separate report by the Hansard Society political research body, also published on Wednesday, suggested the scandal would not keep voters away from polling stations.

“For the most part, it has merely confirmed and hardened the public’s widely held scepticism about politicians rather than changed their views,” the report said.

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