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How, why and when to vote

April 05 2008
Whether you sleep rough or in a hostel, you can register to vote and exercise your democratic rights Up to one in five Londoners may miss out on their chance to vote in the upcoming Mayoral election because they are not registered to vote, and although no figures are available, there is likely to be a larger percentage amongst our readership. But being homeless, whether you sleep rough, in a hostel or temporary accommodation, does not stop you from registering to vote and exercising your democratic rights.

On 1st May, the election for the Mayor of London and for the London Assembly will take place, but if you want to vote, you must first be on the electoral register. London has the lowest voter registration in the country, with nearly 18 per cent of Londoners missing from the register in some parts of the capital, compared to an average of just seven per cent across England and Wales.

The pity of this is that it is relatively easy to register, but many of our readers may not realise they can. To register and vote in the London elections, you have to be at least 18 years old on 1st May, live in London and be a British, Commonwealth or EU citizen. The deadline for registering is 16th April, so if you've picked up this copy hot of the press, you still have nine days.

The 'Why register?' is harder to answer (other than you should because you can!), but there are two particularly good reasons.

First, it gives you a say. Even if you don't get your man or woman in office, at least you spoke for who you wanted. Despite a common perception that politicians are "all as bad as each other" and voting for anyone is a waste time (the oft-given explanation for voter apathy), voting is a positive step that will give you, the voter, a sense of ownership of the system.

Secondly, the elections for the Mayor of London and the London Assembly are important, as it is your opportunity to make a mark on the capital. The Mayor controls a number of London-wide issues including transport, policing, fire and safety, housing, the environment, economic development and arts and culture.

Taken that it's important to vote, for the City and yourself, and that it's quick and easy to register, why not do it? The homeless can register to vote by means of a 'declaration of local connection' giving your address as the place where you commonly spend a substantial part of your time (day or night). You can get this form from your local borough council. If you're sleeping rough or in a hostel and you're not sure whether you're on the electoral register, contact your closest borough council. If you want to register, ask your council or download a registration form from London Elects. All you need to do is complete and sign a simple form giving your name, age, nationality and address, and return the form to your local borough's elections office.

Just remember, the deadline for registering for the London elections is 16th April 2008.