A row has broken out over student votes after a Green campaign group started handing out proxy voting forms on Falmer campus.
The Students for Caroline campaign for the party’s Brighton Pavilion candidate Caroline Lucas is offering University of Sussex students the chance to sign proxy voting forms already filled in with the details of Green Party supporters.
The supporters would then be able to vote on students’ behalf in the national and local elections on May 7, when most will be back at home.
The group held a stall on campus last Friday, and also has a Facebook group which invites people to use proxy votes if they’re not going to be in Brighton next month.
But the move was slammed by the local Labour party, which says proxy votes are intended to given to people they know and trust, not a stranger on a stall.
And it is concerned the proxy votes will be used in the local elections, which students are traditionally not as interested in, as well as the national.
Tracey Hill, Labour local candidate for Hollingdean and Stanmer ward, which includes the Falmer campus, said that while the practice didn’t break election law, it was highly inappropriate.
She said: “Students are being asked to give their votes to someone they don’t know and have never met. That doesn’t sound right.
“What if the student changes their mind later? They wouldn’t be able to contact their proxy to let them know.”
Caroline Penn, Labour local candidate for the same ward, said: “It has been widely reported that the number of young people registering to vote has fallen significantly since the introduction of the new voter registration rules were introduced.
“However, this seems to be taking things too far.”
And Michael Inkpin-Leissner, also a Labour candidate for the ward, said: “People often vote differently in local elections from general elections.
“But with these pre-filled forms, students are signing away their right to vote in local elections too, without even being able to discuss or communicate with their proxy about how to vote.”
However, a spokeswoman for Students for Caroline said proxy voting was a good solution for those who can’t vote in person or by post.
She said: “Many students are extremely keen to make sure their voice is counted on May 7, and so some, who know they won’t be able to vote in person or by post because of holiday and postal vote timings, are asking instead for a proxy vote.
“Ideally, we hope as many students as possible will be able to vote in person or by post. But where that just won’t be an option for them, proxy voting is a well-recognised solution they’re able to choose if they’d like.
“It’s obviously all led by them – we just make them aware of all the options available, which I think most people would agree is the right thing to do, and we’ve had students approach us directly to request a proxy vote themselves.
“We follow a code of practice which adheres to official Electoral Commission guidance and we check our campaigners are familiar with it.
“We have checked with town hall electoral services to ensure our student voter campaign operates within all election regulations.”
So far, 188 people have registered with Brighton and Hove City Council for a proxy vote.