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General election 2024: how to engage students with voting

26 February 2024

With a general election on the horizon, it’s never been more important to engage young people in democracy. While this work is important throughout the year, at Long Road Sixth Form College, we found that having one week of concentrated action and campaigning helps to concentrate efforts and maximise impact.

This year, we took part in the Electoral Commission’s Welcome to Your Vote’ week from 29 January to 4 February, and it was a huge success.

During this week, we hosted three events: information sessions, registration sessions and a mock ballot with the aim of educating and empowering young people to vote.

Leading up to the week, promotional posters were put on the college’s social media accounts, on the tv screens around college, and on our online platform Moodle. We also sent out staff and student emails to get everyone excited about the idea of voting.

The week started with information workshops focusing on the theme ‘Your Voice Matters’. To make this event more effective, we collaborated with Georgia Thurston, who is a member of the elections team at Cambridge City Council. Georgia ran the workshops, and explained why our students should aim to break the false narratives around young people not turning out to vote. She produced some statistics proving every vote matters: for example, in the 2017 general election in Northeast Fife, the Scottish National Party won with a majority of just two votes. She also shared a cartoon by Nick Anderson which showed a small group of people with shirts saying, ‘I Voted’, alongside a much larger group saying, ‘We didn’t vote because it won’t make a difference’.

Around 113 students and six members of staff attended five sessions. We were really pleased that staff engaged with this event: young people can be registered from 16 even if they cannot vote until 18 so it is relevant to all their students.

I asked the staff who brought their classes why they believe young people should be educated and excited about voting and why they thought it was important for their students to hear this talk. Media teacher Simon Howarth said: “Voting means having a say in how the country is run, which affects us all. When the bins are emptied, if the bins are emptied, whether education should be free, private schools abolished, the NHS should have long long waiting lists, refugees ... these things matter, and if we don’t vote, we’re saying they don’t matter; we’re saying we don’t matter. We do, and we have a voice.”

We then ended the week with two mock ballot and registration drop-in sessions. For the ballot, we asked students: should voting age be lowered to 16? This sparked lots of conversation – some believe that 16-year-olds are not mature enough to make important decisions, while others argued there are plenty of adults who aren’t well educated in politics and yet, they can still vote. We received 110 votes in total, 54 for ‘Yes’ and 56 for ‘No’.

Over the two days, we also helped 32 students and two staff members register to vote. We had QR codes which directed people to the government website, and a tablet ready for anyone who didn’t have a device handy. Georgia was there to answer any questions staff or students had, and we had three student volunteers also supporting students.

Our student volunteers are passionate about this work. Politics student Lorenzo Reserva said: “Voting is an important duty that all citizens in a democracy have which we take for granted as some countries manipulate or outright ban it. It is a means for everybody to elect representatives who can represent us and potentially to directly decide on policy which can affect ourselves and even others. Hence young people should turn out to vote because by not making decisions, we are letting others do this for us, and this often can put self-serving individuals and incompetent leaders into power.”

Overall, we reached 258 students with ‘Welcome to Your Vote’ Week and eight staff members. We’re proud that a proportion of the student body now feels more empowered and educated around voting and why they should vote.

Charlotte Smith is Youth Social Action Apprentice at Long Road Sixth Form College