A campaign has been launched by the Government, to coincide with National Voter Registration Day (NVRD), which is encouraging more service personnel to register to vote.
NVRD was created in response to the lack of education and awareness around voter registration in the UK. It is vital that all members of the Armed Forces have the chance to exercise their democratic right.
While around 85% of the general population are on the electoral roll, the lower ranks of the Army and Royal Marines are reported as 60% and 61% respectively.
Elsewhere, the Navy and RAF lower ranks reported rates of 75% and 74% respectively.
In order to increase electoral registration, the Government has made £9.8m available, of which the Cabinet Office has allocated £500,000 to the Armed Forces to encourage personnel to register in time for the deadline of 20 April 2015.
Service personnel, along with their spouses or civil partners, can choose to register as a Service Voter.
This means they can register at a fixed address in the UK for a 5-year period and those who are posted overseas can register at their previous UK address, or if they live in the mess during the week they can register at the address where they spend weekends or leave.
Anna Soubry, Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans, said:
Politics affects everything from the food you eat, to the streets you walk on and the air you breathe. Voting gives people the opportunity to have a say on the important issues that affect them.
Defence is inherently associated with the democratic process – its purpose is to seek to defend freedoms of democracy, and by registering to vote personnel can demonstrate that they think this is an important right.
Being in the armed forces can sometimes make it difficult to remain on the electoral register, particularly if personnel move around regularly or are posted overseas.
And in common with the wider population, young service personnel are less likely to register to vote than those who are older.
Roadshows will be held during February and March at more than 50 of the major Army, Navy and RAF bases across the UK.
The new campaign is underpinned by the principles of the Armed Forces Covenant, and the Government’s commitment to ensuring that serving and former members of the armed forces are not disadvantaged by their service.
Miss Soubry added:
This Government made this pledge by enshrining the Covenant into law in 2011. Serving personnel should not be less likely to vote as a result of their service, and as such this campaign aims to address the lower than average numbers who are registered to vote.
Once registered, there are three ways to vote – in person, by post or by proxy.
In 2014, the Government oversaw the modernisation of the system of electoral registration. One key feature is the introduction of on-line registration, which makes registering to vote more convenient and accessible than ever before. Registering for the 7 May 2015 UK Parliamentary General Election on-line takes as little as three minutes and can be done on a smartphone or tablet.
The changes also mean that postal ballot papers can now be dispatched much earlier than before - as early as 19 working days before the 2015 general election compared to 11 working days before the 2010 general election. This should make it easier for personnel serving overseas to vote by post if they wish.