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THE Church of Scotland is backing a new campaign to encourage people to sign up to vote in the next General Election. The Voter Registration Champion scheme is targeting voters at risk of not being able to have their say because they have not registered in time to take part.

This week is Voter Registration Week (4-11 March) and the Church of Scotland, along with the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Methodist Church and United Reformed Church, are ambassadors for the initiative.

Under the scheme, local churches that sign up to be champions will be equipped to try and increase democratic participation through registering people to vote, providing information about the need to have appropriate photo ID, and encouraging people to turn out on polling day.

Emma Jackson, convener of the Public Life and Social Justice Group of the Church of Scotland, welcomed the initiative, which has been set up by community organiser group, Citizens UK. She said: “In a just and compassionate society, exercising our right to vote in one of key ways in which we can not only participate in democracy, but demonstrate our love for our neighbour as we engage in the issues that affect us all and we seek to hold our leaders to account.

“The Church of Scotland is uniquely placed in communities all around Scotland and is delighted to be working with Citizens UK and others as we help encourage and facilitate voter registration and participation in elections.”

The Electoral Commission has warned that many millions of voters may not participate at the next General Election, 8 million because they fail to register to vote in time; 4 million who do not have appropriate Photo ID; and 14 million who do not feel motivated to turn out to vote on the election day itself. Those at greatest risk of not being able to participate in the democratic process are the young, non-UK nationals, those who live in an economically-disadvantaged community or who are from an ethnic minority.

The Voter Registration Champions scheme has been set up to engage groups to address this and encourage democratic participation in a non-partisan way.

The Rev Gill Newton and Kerry Scarlett, President and Vice-President of the Methodist Conference said: “As a justice-seeking church, we understand acting for justice and transformation as part of our discipleship; of our becoming more Christ-like. We know that in our communities, there are people who do not know that in a democratic process, voting is a way to make their voices heard, and to join in shaping a flourishing society. Or, they may not know how to register to vote. That’s why the Methodist Church is supporting the Voter Registration Champions initiative, and encouraging local churches to get involved in helping to overcome barriers to people’s participation in our political processes. We urge everyone to ‘love, pray and vote’ this election year.”

Thomas Hart, Youth President of the Methodist Church, spoke of the importance of everyone who is eligible to register to vote doing so, but particularly those who are young. “The Methodist Church believes that God’s love knows no bounds and is inclusive of all, as we are all made in the image of God. But we live in a world where injustices and prejudice are often prevalent. Therefore it is right that the Methodist Church is supporting the Voter Registration Champions initiative, to encourage as many people to register to vote and to make their democratic voice heard regardless of age, gender, race or belief.

“In so many parts of our world, the right to vote is denied, so as the Youth President, I would particularly encourage our young people to register, and then to exercise their democratic right to vote. Young people have the greatest stake in the future, so our engagement in the democratic process is vital.”

* Find out more about becoming a Voter Registration Champion here.

* If you would like to know more about voter registration, listen to Faith in Politics Podcast 10 minutes on…Voter Registration here.

* Sources: Church of Scotland and The Methodist Church