Individual electoral registration: Northern Ireland shows that the annual canvass must be kept

Electoral Commission logoOne of the key disputes over how individual electoral registration should be introduced in England, Scotland and Wales is whether having people join and leave the register regularly through the year, alongside better use of other information about people moving (e.g. prompting people who take out a new TV license to register), would mean that the once-a-year check on all addresses – the ‘annual canvass’ – can be dropped.

The Electoral Commission has just published the results of its research into how individual electoral registration has been working in Northern Ireland since its introduction there in 2002. The conclusion? An annual canvass must be kept.

Following the introduction of IER in Northern Ireland in 2002 the requirement for an annual canvass was removed in 2006, which meant that electors were registered once and only had to re-register if their personal details changed. This research looked at the effectiveness of continuous registration in Northern Ireland.

The report shows that the electoral register is now 71% complete and 78% accurate. The previous assessment carried out in 2008 estimated the register to be 83% complete and 94% accurate. The current findings suggest that the reason for this significant decline is because the processes currently employed by the Chief Electoral Officer to manage the register under continuous registration are unable to keep pace with either people moving home or people becoming newly eligible to join the register…

The Electoral Registration and Administration Bill, currently before the UK Parliament, provides for the annual canvass to remain in Great Britain following the introduction of IER. It is therefore likely that Great Britain will avoid the main problems of continuous registration that have been experienced in Northern Ireland.

* Mark Pack has written 101 Ways To Win An Election and produces a monthly newsletter about the Liberal Democrats.

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  • Tony Dawson 28th Nov '12 - 6:20pm

    In this age of austerity, we could do with closing down the Electoral Commission sooner than yesterday. We do not need their research into the fact that individual registration will reduce overall registration, particularly among the younger, poorer and more mobile sections of society. The ‘problem’ which this is being brought in to attempt to remedy could be dealt with by spending a few thousand pounds on investigation and serious prosecutions, properly publicised.

    When will the Electoral Commission address the serious waste of spending which is presently allowed on parliamentary by-elections to satisfy the whims of national political parties who want to make more out of these than what they are meant to be? When is the Electoral Commission going to sort out the fact that the present election expenses rules permit virtually infinite expenditure in small wards under the ‘notional expenses’ rules with a Nil return? Don’t hold your breath.

  • Alex Macfie 29th Nov '12 - 1:20pm

    Tony: Individual registration is being brought in to stop situations like the one that anyone who has ever canvassed will have encountered: the house or flat that has several occupants, but none of them are on the electoral register, and the person who *is* registered to vote there is the non-resident landlord! The victims of this situation tend to be precisely the “younger, poorer and more mobile sections of society” that you refer to. Individual registration ensures that voters always have the power to ensure that they are on the electoral register, i.e. that it is not in the hands of some “head of household” who may be disinterested or even have an active interest in preventing them from getting on the electoral register.

    And talk of “austerity” is inappropriate here. We are talking about maintaining integrity of the voting process. This cannot be done on the cheap.

  • IER is a nonsense and a waste of public money. Forcing people to register and combining non-compliance with authoritarian punishments is not the way to increase turnout, involvement in elections or interest in the political process. What none of the parties have grasped is that the reason for low turnout is that they have detached themselves from the public. they live in their own little world, thinking theyre fantastic “representatives” when the fact is theyre not. Compulsory IER is totalitarian period. But it also will not solve the problem. not until political parties face up and acknowledge theyre the problem: not the public. Politicians would do well to remember that they serve us, not the other way round. Its the service part of”public service”.

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