Category Archives: Election law

The Election Law Channel is dedicated to coverage of UK election law, giving unrivalled detailed news of election law matters, explaining complex matters in plain English and setting out the practical relevance of technical legal provisions.

Police probe launched into anti-Lib Dem electoral fraud in Richmond

A couple of days ago Mary Reid, one of LibDemVoice’s day editors, reported the news of the fake election leaflets distributed in Richmond with the seeming intent of misleading voters about the views of local Lib Dems:

A number of local voters have admitted that they were taken in by the leaflets, decided not to vote Lib Dem as a result and voted Conservative in protest. This was a seat that we were hoping to take back from the Conservatives, but Jane Dodds lost by 146 votes.

The BBC now reports that the police are investigating the allegations of electoral …

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More election fraud claims – and the TV show which set up a fake polling station

In the London Borough of Camden, Hat Trick productions ran into hot water after setting up a spoof but official looking polling station immediately outside a real polling station, encouraging members of the public into coming to vote before revealing to them that the polling station was part of a prank for a political satire show.

Hat Trick also sent someone out door knocking, claiming to be a Liberal Democrat activist but really setting people up for more spoofs, to be caught on a hidden camera.

One Liberal Democrat supporter was called on at home by the fake Liberal Democrat activist, who …

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Mystery of fake leaflets in North Richmond

The leaflet below appears to be normal Lib Dem election literature. It was one of three distributed widely over night on May2nd/3rd for the council by-election in North Richmond, in the London borough of Richmond upon Thames. You may wonder why it is titled Comments instead of Focus, but that is what Lib Dems have always called their leaflets in Richmond.

Indeed, the layout and photos are exact copies of earlier Lib Dem election leaflets. The bar chart, grumble sheet and contact details all look authentic. The writing style is credible.

But a closer inspection reveals something very worrying. The main story …

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How many people are on the electoral register who shouldn’t be?

The Daily Express reports:

 Nick de Bois cross-checked the names of constituents seeking his help to stay in the UK and found 21 out of a sample 100 had signed up for voting rights.

The Tory backbencher is calling on ministers to tighten registration rules, claiming it is harder to get a library card than a ballot paper…

The MP said some people get on the electoral roll just to obtain credit cards or commit financial fraud.

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Police investigate Labour in Leeds over fake poll card allegations

The Leeds Labour Party is being investigated by the police for over claims it has broken the law against issuing imitation poll cards. Parties and candidates are not allowed to issue leaflets which look like official poll cards, but this is what Labour has been distributing in the Otley and Yeadon ward:

After the legality of the leaflets was raised with them, the Labour Party has said they stopped delivering the leaflets.

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Police arrest BNP candidate for Mayor of Liverpool

The BBC reports:

The BNP candidate standing for elected mayor of Liverpool has been arrested by Merseyside Police.

Mike Whitby has been detained following an allegation that nomination forms for the mayoral elections had been fraudulently filled in…

The complaint was made to Merseyside Police following an investigation by the Liverpool Echo.

UPDATE September 2012: “The Crown Prosecution Service said there was insufficient evidence to take the case through the courts” – Liverpool Echo

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Police called in over electoral fraud allegations in Tower Hamlets

The Evening Standard reports:

Scotland Yard was today asked by the elections watchdog to investigate “unprecedented” evidence of voter fraud ahead of next week’s polling for London Mayor.

The Electoral Commission passed evidence to police after six Labour councillors in Tower Hamlets wrote to warn of “serious abuses of the electoral register”. It follows growing concerns of cheating in the east London borough, involving the creation of bogus voters at a series of addresses.

An investigation by the Evening Standard this year found instances of eight names registered in one room to vote. It is claimed that a man locked up in

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Cardiff Labour candidate faces police investigation over their home address

Following a referral by Cardiff Council’s Electoral Registration Officer, the police are investigating one of the city’s Labour council candidates over allegations that he provided a false home address for use on the ballot papers.

Luke Holland gave as his address a property that he moved out of last year. However that old address is in the ward where he is standing and his current address is outside the ward. Mr Holland does not deny the crux of the allegations, having told the media:

It is true that I currently rent a flat in a neighbouring ward – a fact that

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Our broken electoral timetable – or why Andrew Neil is too late

Along with many activists from all political parties, yesterday I was out on the doorsteps campaigning for votes with a special emphasis on targeting postal voters. For me that involved trips to Streatham and Haringey, both places where – as is common across London – postal ballot papers have been hitting people’s doormats on Friday and Saturday.

Many postal voters fill in their ballot papers promptly, so by this evening a noticeable chunk of the London electorate will have cast their votes. The same is true in many other parts of …

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Individual electoral registration: this is how government is meant to work

Electoral register formVia a slightly odd story in the Daily Telegraph comes the news that Nick Clegg is pushing for the current legal penalties for not returning electoral registration forms to be continued when individual electoral registration is introduced.

I say slightly odd, because Tim Ross’s report misses out nearly all of the context, simply talking about:

Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, is backing proposals to ensure that every individual is responsible for registering themselves on the electoral roll.

However, ministers fear that thousands of young people, particularly students moving

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Home Office decides against national spending limits for Police and Crime Commissioner elections

The controversy over the Government’s view that there should be no freepost election addresses for Police and Crime Commissioner elections has caught the headlines so far, but there is something far worse in the details of the draft legislation. Put simply: having considered having national expenditure limits for the elections, the Conservative ministers in the Home Office have decided to have none.

There will be expense limits for individual candidates and their campaigns. However it is proposed that political parties and outside …

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Electoral Commission points finger at media on people’s concerns over electoral fraud

Commenting on the newly published review into allegations of electoral malpractice in the 2011 elections, the Electoral Commission had this to say:

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Electoral Commission warns government over refusal to provide election freepost to Police Commissioner candidates

In the run-up to the first London Mayor election in 2000 there was a fierce stand-off between the House of Lords and the then Labour government over whether there would be a ‘freepost election address’ for the contest. This service, used for elections such as to the House of Commons and the European Parliament, provides for the free delivery of one leaflet from each candidate to each voter, providing a basic minimum level of communication to the public about the contest.

During the stand-off, the late Conrad Russell led an effective rebellion invoking rarely used Lords procedures. I remember talking to two senior peers, one Tory and one Lib Dem, as he walked down the corridor in the distance. “That’s the man the government is scared of,” one said to the other, and rightly so as the dispute threatened to derail the whole contest.

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Only limited success for data-matching trials to improve electoral register

The Electoral Commission reports:

Data matching may have the potential to improve electoral registers in Great Britain, but more work needs to be done, the Electoral Commission has advised the UK Government.

The Commission, the independent elections watchdog, has evaluated pilot schemes by 22 local authorities in England and Scotland, supported by the Cabinet Office. The authorities compared their electoral registers with other sources of information, such as the Department of Work and Pensions database, and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency driver database as part of the work in preparation for the introduction of individual electoral registration (IER).

The aim was to see if data from these sources was useful for checking the accuracy of the registers and for identifying people missing from the registers who may be eligible to vote.

“The results from the first pilot scheme were inconclusive for a variety of reasons,” says Electoral Commission Director of Electoral Administration, Andrew Scallan. “However, we believe data matching may have the potential to supplement activity by electoral registration officials and help in the implementation of IER. Further, well-constructed trials are necessary so that we can properly evaluate the potential.”

One reason for cautious optimism that further trials will have more success is that the Royal Mail’s change of address database ended up not being tested in the first round of trials. Using the Royal Mail to provide leaflets to people about the need to register when they notify it of changed addresses has had success in the past, so a trial of data matching using these records would have a promising pedigree.

Data Matching Pilot Evaluation

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Electoral register grew 0.6% in 2011

This week the Office of National Statistics published its latest round-up of electoral registration figures for the UK, showing a 0.6% increase in 2011 for the total number of entries on the electoral register.

As the UK has a growing population, it is likely that this growth was in large part caused by an increase in the total number of people theoretically entitled to register.

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Government responds to consultation over individual electoral registration

Sensible news from the government yesterday with talk of modification to its plans for individual electoral registration in the light of comments made during its consultation.

Many people (including myself) criticised the plans to weaken the legal requirement to register, either because they oppose voluntary registration in principle or because even if they are warm to voluntary registration in theory they think that switching to individual registration and voluntary registration at the same time is a recipe for disaster. One should be done, sorted and settled in before the other is addressed.

As has been heavily trailed, the government is indeed thinking again and it is now:

Reconsidering an individual’s ability to opt out – looking to either tighten this provision or remove it altogether.

Electoral register formAnother area of criticism during the consultation was over concerns that the last ‘traditional’ electoral register would be too dated by the time the new process is brought in for it to be a good basis for the new process. However, running the traditional process for another year would run up extra costs running into the tens of millions. The government is therefore proposing a sensible sounding compromise of postponing the autumn 2013 electoral register canvass to spring 2014, so that it is much less dated when it is used as the basis for the new process but without requiring an extra canvass.

Many traps lie in the administrative details of electoral register canvasses, which is why I only say “sensible sounding compromise”; we’ll have to see how the details look as people pour over them in the coming days and weeks.

The government is also proposing to make more extensive use of data matching so that different public sector records are used to help populate the electoral register. You can read more about this and the other parts of the government response below.

If you are wondering why bother with individual electoral registration in the first place and why Labour first kicked off the plans for introducing it, see What’s the point of switching to individual electoral registration?

Government Response to Pre-legislative Scrutiny and Public Consultation on Individual Electoral Registratio…

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Clegg signals new approach to individual voter registration in evidence to Parliamentary committee

Last Wednesday saw Nick Clegg return for his annual appearance before the  House of Lords Constitution Committee. As one might expect, a whole range of political reform and constitutional issues were covered in the 90 minute evidence session.

One interesting answer by the Deputy Prime Minister which caught my attention was on the topic of individual voter registration. Asked by Liberal Democrat peer Lord (Chris) Rennard whether there would be changes to the government approach as set out in the earlier White Paper when we see legislation on the issue soon, Clegg had the following to say:

The short answer is ‘yes’….We

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Can polling station location alter how people vote?

I’ve written before about how the number and location of polling stations has an impact on turnout, but what about the candidate choices people make when they are in a polling station?

A new academic study of 99 people suggests the choice of building for a polling station can have an impact on people’s political outlooks:

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Should Police Commissioner candidates get election addresses?

The Electoral Commission’s Peter Wardle last week gave a speech to local government Chief Executives, during which he made this point about election addresses:

The constituencies in the PCC elections are big, with over a million voters in some cases. There’s currently no provision for candidates to have Freepost facilities to deliver their election addresses to voters. Nor is there a provision for any sort of booklet for voters that would include candidates’ election addresses. Alongside the PCC elections, of course, there may well be elections for Mayors in the larger English cities. And candidates for Mayor will, on current plans, be able to pay

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Learning lessons from the US elections: four legal differences you need to know

With a new American Presidential cycle producing, as ever, near obsessional coverage (and ignoring other more important electoral news), now is a good time to update a post from the last cycle about learning lessons from the US:

This year is already seeing all sorts of prognostications about the lessons UK political parties and campaigners can and should be drawing.

However, many of the differences between American and British election campaigns are not the result of American campaigners having good ideas the British should copy, but rather are the result of four key legal differences between the two countries.

First – and …

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Electoral registration: the group that gets overlooked

People who live in private rented accommodation rarely catch the attention of politicians or political journalists. It’s odd, because so many people working for MPs or media outlets, particularly in London, spend a good number of years in shared private rented accommodation and normally the problem is that politicians place too much attention on people they are immediately familiar with rather than too little.

The neglect of the private renter is seen most often when the housing market is discussed, where it is frequently not only taken as a given that home ownership is what it is all about but also very little attention is given to making the private rented sector work better. You can fight through a bulging email folder of press releases from politicians wanting to make mortgages easier, cheaper, safer and more numerous before you find one that talks about tackling any of the issues renters face.

This week has seen the neglect in another form, with the Electoral Commission’s report into electoral registration. The headline picture is fairly straightforward. The evidence, “indicate a decline in the  quality of the registers in the early 2000s with a subsequent stabilisation, but not recovery, from 2006″. Registration rates also vary greatly by age: “The lowest percentage of completeness is recorded for the 17–18 and 19–24 age groups (55% and 56% complete respectively). In contrast, 94% of the 65+ age group were registered”.

However, differences in registration based on class or ethnicity – often talked about – are not only relatively small (little difference based on class, less than 10 percentage points difference based on ethnicity) but they are dwarfed by the property dimension:

Completeness ranged from 89% among those who own their property outright and 87% among those with a mortgage, to 56% among those who rent from a private landlord. In relation to accuracy, the rate of ineligible entries at privately rented properties was four times that found at owner occupied addresses.

For the slump in electoral registration which went alongside the slump in turnout at the turn of the century to have since stabilised as turnout has recovered somewhat is an okay, rather than good, trend. To make it a good trend requires that private renting problem to be fixed.

It is one of the reasons why – done right – I think individual electoral registration is a good thing, as it will then be clearer to people in shared private rented accommodation what needs doing to get on the register and remove the situation I’ve often encountered out on the doorsteps of just one name registered at such addresses – an absent landlord.

Yet its also one of the major issues with electoral registration that gets talked about the least. Let’s hope the latest evidence helps to change that.

Great Britain’s Electoral Registers 2011

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How can a general election happen?

Events such as last week’s European summit still regularly produce a flurry of comment about how Cameron might / should / will / must call an early general election, written as if the rules on calling a general election have not changed.

But they have, for the Fixed-term Parliaments Act of 2011 is now in force and the sorts of calculations that were relevant during previous political excitements are no longer relevant. A Prime Minister can no longer simply call an early general election because they want to.

Instead, there are only two circumstances in which a general election can take place earlier than the scheduled five years after the previous one.

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When should election counts be held?

The Electoral Commission has a new consultation paper out, returning to an old issue: when should election counts be held?

As the paper says:

The key issue is that many Returning Officers have considered that increasingly complex election counts would be better conducted the morning after the close of poll when staff are fresh and less likely to make mistakes, while governments, political parties and candidates have often pressed for counts in major elections to take place immediately after the close of polls. This has led to controversies in the public domain ahead of major elections.

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How many people are prosecuted for failing to fill in electoral registration forms?

In amongst the debate over individual electoral registration, one question has been whether it should remain a legal obligation to complete registration forms sent out by the local council.

But how meaningful is the current legal obligation? Part of the answer to that has come in a recent Parliamentary Question, giving details of how many prosecutions have been commenced under the existing system:

2008 183
2009 67
2010 144
These data are collected by voluntary survey of electoral registration officers (EROs). The Electoral Commission does not have the power to collect this information and it is therefore not compulsory for EROs to complete

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Individual electoral registration, credit and social mobility

One aspect of electoral registration, and the potential problems with making registration voluntary, is the knock-on effect on credit and social mobility. That was the aspect which Liberal Democrat peer (Lord) Chris Rennard took up during a debate in the Lords this week:

Lord Rennard: My Lords, does the Minister accept that it really is necessary to carry out a thorough, door-to-door, face-to-face canvass in order to ensure both the accuracy and the completeness of the electoral register? Does he accept that failure to do so not only threatens the integrity of the democratic process but could also cause problems for

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Electoral Commission calls for local Council Tax referendums to be postponed

The Electoral Commission has called on Parliament to modify the Localism Bill to delay the proposed start date for local referendums on Council Tax levels, neighbourhood development plans and local authority structures (e.g. elected Mayors) from Spring 2012 to Spring 2013.

It’s forthright message, headlined (in capital letters no less): “IMPORTANT RECOMMENDATION TO PARLIAMENT” is that with the legislation not yet passed by Parliament, there will simply not be enough time between it being passed and the proposed first possible local referendum date for the contests to be properly run. Instead, it says implementation should be delayed by a year in order to provide a sufficient gap between legislation and implementation.

This sort of warning by the Electoral Commission has become a regular feature of autumnal politics as governments of different political complexions have pushed through legislation ahead of the following spring. However, in this case their views are being expressed in a particularly strident manner.

That is no doubt due to the fact that the creation of local referendums raises far more issues of administrative organisation than the changes introduced by previous rounds of legislation. In theory, for example, some lucky voters could get to vote in five different referendums on the same day in the spring, with those different referendums taking place across differing organisational boundaries.

Localism Bill: Electoral Commission briefing for Lords Third Reading

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How were the Scottish elections run?

The Electoral Commission’s report into May’s Scottish elections is now out and broadly paints a positive picture of how the elections were administered.

As is often the case in such reports, it is the apparently obvious recommendations that highlight how something, somewhere took a rather unfortunate turn. In the case of this report, one such recommendation is tucked way unobtrusively in the middle of p.8:

Following any boundary reviews ROs and EROs must make thorough checks with the relevant Boundary Commission to ensure they are able to precisely identify the exact boundaries that are set out in legislation.

Indeed.

(700 people in Glasgow were sent poll cards telling them to vote in the wrong place.)

On the big issue in many people’s minds ahead of the elections, the report rightly brings good news. The 2007 Scottish elections were marked by controversy over the much higher proportion of rejected ballot papers than for previous Scottish Parliament elections.

This time, aided in part by the use of different ballot paperwork, the rejection rates fell right back down to levels last seen in 1999.

Looking to the future, the paper echoes the Electoral Commission report on the AV referendum when it comes to following up invalid postal votes and also promises a discussion paper on the thorny issue of when elections should be counted.

Scottish Parliament Elections Report – Electoral Commission

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Electoral administration lessons from the AV referendum: the Electoral Commission’s view

Last week, the Electoral Commission published its report into the administration of the May’s AV referendum. Despite the high political temperatures during the campaign, the administration got little criticism at the time and so the report rightly reflects that. However, amongst the details are some important pointers to issues that are likely to come up at future elections.

10pm cut-off for voting

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Mark Williams MP writes: We can achieve an accurate and complete electoral register

The Government’s planned introduction of Individual Voter Registration was to be the subject of a special ‘opposition day’ debate in the House of Commons this week. Labour MPs are getting extremely excitable about the changes, shrouding what are really partisan fears in a cloak of concern about democracy. In the event, their debate was cancelled because of other urgent business, but the issue certainly isn’t going away.

For all of their recent hollering, legislation to introduce Individual Electoral Registration was actually passed by Labour in 2009. They accepted then that the present system of household registration is inadequate and inaccurate. It leads to entries being left on the register when they shouldn’t be there, and it disconnects most voters from the process by relying on a single ‘head of household’. It also undermines the compulsory nature of registration. Some Electoral Registration Officers say it is difficult to establish who is responsible for registering people in any given property, unless it is a single person household.

Individual registration should ensure everyone has to engage with the process, and return their own form. Since all parties recognise that this is a long overdue step in reducing electoral fraud, and the perception of it, it is a pity the Opposition are now making such hysterical statements about getting on with the job.

However, there are defects with the Government’s proposals. Their initial ‘white paper’ on reform suggested that electoral registration should in future be voluntary. There would remain an obligation on households – presumably with the same defects as now – to return a “Household Enquiry Form” asking who was there, but it would then be optional for each individual to register. Electoral Registration Officers would have no “stick” with which to encourage potential electors to put themselves on the electoral roll. his would have led to a less complete register, and the independent Electoral Commission said so in its response to the consultation.

Nick Clegg is clearly listening on this point, and has already said in the House of Commons that he is minded to change the proposals to reflect these concerns. The Parliamentary Policy Committee I co-chair has made a detailed submission to the consultation, highlighting the proposed ‘opt-out’ as a key flaw in the draft legislation. It looks like Liberal Democrat pressure may now succeed in getting it dropped. We would like to see a new legal obligation follow for individuals themselves to return their form, so everyone gets on to the electoral roll in future.

Electoral registration is about far more than the right to vote. It affects the functionality of the jury system, and the principle that people are tried by their peers. If only a select group chose to register (it might be disproportionately the white middle classes), you might find suspects tried not by their peers but by those whose economic and social position is generally considerably more advantageous.

Beyond the state, referencing agencies use the electoral roll as the basis for offering credit, without which many of the most vulnerable, low income households might not be able to spread the cost of the more expensive items – furniture, washing machines, and so on – that everyone has to buy at some point.

Removal of the “opt-out” is not the only safeguard we want to see put into the legislation on IER. To prevent any largescale drop off in the number of people who are registered, we want to see a full annual canvass carried out in 2014. There could and should be more opportunties for ‘hard-to-reach’ groups to be registered, as they encounter the state in other aspects of their lives, whether through schools and colleges or through the benefits system. There is clearly room for considerable improvement in registering service voters too, espeically since it is obviously easy to know who and where they are. And the Government also needs to look again at whether the first register based entirely on individual registration – due after the 2015 election – is the right one on which to predicate the next boundary review.

I am confident that a great many of these safeguards can and will be built into the new system. Labour MPs are simply wrong to say that there is some nefarious ploy at play here, and that the Liberal Party – responsible for extending the franchise in the first place – would conspire to exclude the poorest voters from the register. That would clearly be unacceptable, and no Liberal Democrat will stand by while it happens.

When we do secure changes to the legislation, it won’t be thanks to partisan rantings on the part of Labour MPs. They resisted the principled case for individual registration for a full six years after the Electoral Commission first recommended it in 2003, and now they want to slow it down even further. All because they seem to believe that Labour voters just won’t register. But with a compulsory system, and new avenues of access to the electoral roll, there is no reason to suppose we shouldn’t be able to ensure everyone keeps their vote.

Either way, if any political party approaches this issue with a view simply to protecting its own interests, rather than the broader democratic interest, ministers are unlikely to listen. Our Committee is meeting Mark Harper, the Minister ‘under’ Nick Clegg with responsibility for Political and Constitutional Reform, to discuss the Government’s white paper next week. Let us know if there is anything you’d like us to raise with him.

Together, we can achieve what Labour failed to put in place: an electoral register which is both accurate and complete. Doing that doesn’t require delay, it requires innovation and action, and there’s no reason not to start now.

Mark Williams is Co-Chair of the Liberal Democrat Political and Constitutional Reform Parliamentary Policy Committee, and MP for Ceredigion

Submission to Individual Electoral Registration (IER) Consultation From

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LibLink: Mark Pack – Unsolved problems of individual electoral registration

Over on the Total Politics blog, Lib Dem Voice’s Mark Pack has been summarising the state of play with plans to move to individual electoral registration:

So far, the planned move from household to individual electoral registration in Great Britain (catching up with the changes made in Northern Ireland several years ago) has generated rather more political heat than light. But after the announcement from Nick Clegg at the last Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions that he is minded to part of the government’s plans, what is the outlook for the proposal?

Mark goes on to outline the three main issues, as you …

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