I started my internship at The Forum in October 2013 and ever since I have been glued to my desk and my laptop researching and compiling an electoral map of migrant London.
When I started to work on it my question was: “In a country where the economy benefits from the presence of large community of migrants, but where migration can be a dirty word, what role can migrant voters play in democratic system?”
I have completed my research and can finally share some of my fascinating, exciting findings about voting and elections in London.
As we are approaching the local and EU elections on the 22nd May, Bite the Ballot organised National Voter Registration Day and there is more and more information on how to vote and why. But if you are migrant or refugee, like many of us are at The Forum, is this of relevance to you?
The last census showed the incredible electoral potential of migrant communities – more than 2 million people born abroad can have a say about how their council taxes will be spent to improve their access to local services, provide education for children… and much more.
It is not easy to estimate the number of voters in London, but at the 2012 Mayoral elections the electorate was 5.8 million and the turnout was 38.8%.
Voting is a democratic right and a democratic responsibility: everyone who can, must give their contribution in shaping our present and our future. By voting we are not only selecting who decides, and how they exercise the power on our behalf. But most importantly, we are saying: I. Am. Somebody!
Who can vote? How to register? Why should we vote? What difference can our vote make locally and in the EU? These are the questions we will be answering in a series of posts over the next two months. If you are not registered to vote, you can do so by 6th May and we will let you know how and where.
We will also tell you where migrant communities are and what difference they can make if they register to vote. For example did you know that there are nearly 10,000 Lithuanians in Newham or more than 6,000 Romanians in Brent? There are more than 50,000 Somalis in London who are able to vote. I also discovered that there are 624 electoral wards in London, but in many of them margins are very low – for example there are eight wards where councillors were elected by margin of less than 10 votes. Every single vote makes a difference! And your vote may be all that is needed to make a difference in your neighbourhood.
We will also tell you more about the function of local and European institutions and representatives. We aim to build our collective capacity as citizens to increase the involvement of refugees and migrants and minorities in decision-making.
For all these reasons it is time for me to leave my desk and my laptop and meet as many of you 2 million migrant voters in London as I can. The Forum will work with you to increase voter registration and together we can take responsibility for our better democratic future in one of the greatest cities of the world.
Today we launch the drive for voter registration and over the coming weeks we will be sharing it with community organisations across London. Until May we will be calling on you to register and ask us as many questions as you need to help you to that. We cannot and will not tell you who to vote for, but we want you to engage with the process and participate as a citizen.