Saturday, 28 February 2015

How the Church could play a key role in ensuring migrants exercise their democratic right to vote

The news that the votes of migrants could prove decisive in the upcoming general election represents a significant challenge to the political parties, as well as an opportunity for the Church to play a positive role in the democratic process.
The research conducted  by the University of Manchester and Migrants Rights Network, confirmed that four million foreign-born voters in England and Wales will be eligible to cast a vote on May 7.
Migrants could constitute more than a third of voters in about 25 seats in England and Wales and at least a quarter of the electorate in more than 50 seats.
In at least 70 seats the migrant share of the electorate will be double the majority of the current MP.
“Foreign-born residents of the UK could have an immediate impact in the May 2015 general election,” says the report. “Not only could migrant voters comprise a significant number of overall potential voters on May 7 but they could turn out in substantial numbers within some key marginal constituencies.”

The question though must be one of access and voter registration. The research found that four million migrants are registered but how many are not? In my own area of East London, canvassers knocking on doors have certainly found many people not registered to vote – a lot of them migrants.
Then there are those registered who may not vote. Obviously at this stage canvassing door to door maybe a way to get the message over but there could also be a role for Church networks.
The mainline political parties in different areas of the country really don’t seem to know how to address this problem of getting migrants registered and voting. Yet it is vital to democracy that a way is found to reach this crucial group of people.
The Churches seem to offer an ideal opportunity. The Catholic Church in particular represents one place where people of many different races but united by their faith come together. The community organisers of Citizens UK and London Citizens recognised long ago the value of the churches in reaching the migrant communities.
The successful living wage campaign, for example, launched by London Citizens grew out of the churches, with their networks enabling the organisation to penetrate low pay areas like security and hospitality -  areas that trade unions alone had been unable to do.
The Churches could play a similar role in relation to making sure that the migrant communities that fill the pews are both registered to vote and do vote. This could be done by groups involved in social justice like J&P, Catholic Association for Racial Justice and Caritas Social Action Network. However, there could also be impromptu groups set up just concerned with voter registration.
In the latter case there would be no question of party political bias it would be simply using the forum of the Church as an opportunity to ensure that all parishioners are registered to vote and aware that an election is taking place.  The Church would no doubt support such a move, given its support for the democratic process and enfranchisment of all peoples.
A full scale voter registration exercise conducted via the social justice structures of the Church could help ensure that not only migrants but the whole church going population become aware that there is an election coming and they should be taking part by exercising their vote. This would be a very positive way in which the Church could contribute to the democratic process.

*Migrant vote could be decisive - morning star - 19/3/2015

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