BME Voters Urged to Vote

By on 08/04/2010 in Blog, Elections, Elections 2010

With more than 33% of Birmingham's population* now of non white BME origin, the opportunity for ethnic communities to influence the outcome of both the 2010 General and local elections has perhaps never been greater. Here Election Manager Robert Connelly urges BME communities to have faith in the election process and make their voice heard:

 In a General Election, which the opinion polls are increasingly suggesting will be a close-run thing, by influencing the outcome in Birmingham these same local voters may actually directly decide who takes up the keys to Number 10 Downing Street.

 With this great opportunity also comes a great responsibility within communities who traditionally exhibit lower turnout trends than other areas of the population.

 By not voting citizens not only pass-up the chance to influence who is in power, but arguably also lose some of the moral justification to object to policy, actions and decisions taken by a future government in their name.

 Seeking to understand and redress voter apathy is a real challenge for the local authority, but one we are determined to tackle.

 Great strides have been made over recent years in making the voting process more accessible to all, regardless of English language ability or experience in voting. To this end we now have access to a wide range of literature from the Electoral Commission which explains why and how to vote in dozens of different languages.

 We have also made radical improvements to our security arrangements, following electoral fraud issues in 2004, which in particular will guarantee the improved integrity of the postal voting system - a method of voting used proportionally more by certain ethnic groups than the wider population.

 One misconception which exists among many sections of society, and creates a real barrier to taking part in an election, is the idea that registering for the electoral roll is a time consuming or difficult process, especially for those who do not speak English as their first language.

 In truth registration could not be easier, simply requiring a citizen to enter their personal details, date of birth and signature on one single form.

 To ensure we have as many people registered to vote as possible, we also conduct an annual canvas whereby we send to every home in the city a letter asking for confirmation as to who lives there and is entitled to vote.

 Where households do not return the form, because they are missed or unable to complete them, we also make door-to-door visits to verify our records and offer any support needed in completing the paperwork - including providing a translation service as needed.

 Of course the Council can only go so far in helping people to help themselves to vote, and hopefully our work is supplemented by community leaders, action groups and voluntary organisations of influence within local communities.

 Between them central and local government shape almost every aspect of life for people within this city, but can only do their job effectively if the people who know most about the city, those who live there, make their voices and views heard.

 For a multi-cultural city like Birmingham, expected to be one of the first major cities in the UK where the BME population will soon make up the majority, it would be unthinkable to imagine that those representing the city had been elected without the lion's share of the population taking part in the decision.

 Whether you support a particular party or viewpoint, want change or things to stay the same, the simple fact of the matter is that only by taking part in the election can you ensure your interests and those of your community and culture are properly represented by your national and local government.

 *Office of National Statistics 2007

 To check you're on the electoral register, or to register for the first time, contact the Elections Office at 150 Great Charles Street, call 0121 303 2731 or email elections@birmingham.gov.uk.

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