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In response to the general election, Comment Editor Ed Southgate argues that students voting in their University constituencies is damaging to the electoral system’s integrity and harms the relationship between students and locals.

The recent general election, which saw all of Bristol’s seats turn to Labour, marked a significant change in students’ engagement in politics with turnout amongst the 18-24 age-group surging. This is both pleasing and to be encouraged, but the general election did raise serious questions over where students should be allowed to practice their politics with the ballot box.

‘In the weeks approaching the General Election, I saw more and more Bristolians come to social media to express their disapproval of students coming change the direction of their local politics.’

Although the law is clear that the electorate can only vote once and in their home constituency, university students are given the luxury of registering in both their home and their university constituency.

This luxury damages our electoral system’s integrity by increasing the risk of voter fraud, whilst further damning an already-tense relationship between students and locals. In the weeks approaching the General Election, I saw more and more Bristolians come to social media to express their disapproval of students coming change the direction of their local politics.

‘University is not a student’s home but our temporary place of residence’

But whilst Bristol West remained red, there were some large surges in turnout in specifically university towns and cities which had very decisive and shock results. Canterbury, for instance, has been a safe Tory seat for 176 years but was snatched by Labour by a mere 187 votes. A constituency with two universities – Kent and Christ Church – and a turnout that increased by 3,000 to 56,000 in 2017 from 2015, it is very hard to dispute the suggestion that this gain is because traditionally left-wing students swarmed to the polls in their university constituency instead of their home constituency to influence the vote.

It is important to note those two words “home” and “university”. University is not a student’s home but our temporary place of residence. Students are not affected that greatly by politics local to their university constituency.

‘Those students who overturned Canterbury’s historic stronghold will not be affected by the local consequences’

Indeed, when we vote, we vote locally. We assess both local and national issues of course, but we vote for a local candidate to represent the interests of our home constituency in parliament. It is only when those local results are grouped together that we get a national result and a governing party. So, it is understandable that genuine locals would be frustrated when the colour of their home constituency changed, and consequently the direction of local politics changed, because of students who will probably have left within three years.

‘Is this not just meddling where meddling is not due?’

Three years. Three years! With such a brief, and therefore tenuous, relationship with the local community as that I find it difficult to justify being allowed to significantly impact that area’s politics. Those students who overturned Canterbury’s historic stronghold will not be affected by the local consequences, nor will many other students up and down the UK who influenced the vote in an area they will not be in for long.

Indeed, even within those three years we are only essentially partial members of that community. For one, living in our student bubble, we are exempt from council tax on where we live, and therefore exempt from financially contributing to the area we wish to politically influence. Is this not just meddling where meddling is not due?

But perhaps, as it has been suggested to me, by allowing students to vote in their university constituency we are increasing the chances of them turning out to vote? This could be a valid point as high student turnout if of course to be encouraged; but, surely, if the only reason one is voting is because it is slightly easier to do we should question the strength of their political involvement in the first place. Postal votes, remember, are available for those who are not in their home constituency for the vote and are not too difficult to organise if you really want to have a political voice.

We simply cannot escape that whilst students should always be encouraged to turnout, we should not vote where we study but where we live.


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