Tag Archives: electoral registration

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

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LibLink: Mark Pack – Give people power over the sharing of their data

The Voice‘s Mark Pack has been writing about individual electoral registration for the IPPR’s website:

If I were to move, I would be quite happy to let the gas company, the TV Licensing authority, the local council’s tax department, the electoral registration services and many others know, all in one go.

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Chris Rennard writes: How can we make sure that people can vote?

Just before the Summer recess, the House of Lords began formal consideration of the hugely significant Electoral Registration and Administration Bill. Among other things this introduces Individual Electoral Registration (IER) for Great Britain. The system has been in operation in Northern Ireland since 2002.

I was closely in involved in working with other Liberal Democrats to change the proposals first put forward in the Government’s white paper which could have had the effect of significantly reducing the levels of voter registration in Great Britain. Mark Williams wrote about them

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Online electoral registration: not quite as novel at it sounds

Earlier this month Harrow Council caught the headlines for its new electoral registration system:

Harrow Council has become the first local authority in the country to take its electoral registration online.

As authorities across the country contact residents to ensure their details are added to the electoral register, Harrow will be asking people to respond to the annual canvass online.

The council said residents would be able confirm details “at the click of a button”, avoiding “cumbersome paper forms”.

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Government publishes implementation plan for individual electoral registration

Cabinet Office logoThis week the Cabinet Office has published its detailed implementation plan for the introduction of individual electoral registration in England, Scotland and Wales. (Northern Ireland already uses it.)

Individual electoral registration has long been pushed for by the Electoral Commission and supported by all three of the main political parties. However, getting the details right is important as this is one of those issues where the administrative details can completely wreck the policy if got wrong.

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Good news on electoral registration data geekery

As GeoConnexion reports:

Ordnance Survey and GeoPlace have welcomed the Cabinet Office’s call for greater use of Unique Property Reference Numbers (UPRNs) across the public sector, to support the move towards individual electoral registration (IER).

UPRNs are assigned to address records by local authorities at the planning stage and persist for the lifetime of each and every property across Great Britain. This means that every property is uniquely recorded and can be unequivocally identified by any organisation that holds the UPRN in its own records. Ordnance Survey publishes the UPRNs in its AddressBase range of products.

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Individual electoral registration: welcome changes to the details

Over the weekend, I wrote about how welcome the ancillary details are in the newly published Electoral Registration and Administration Bill. Those are the “and Administration” part of the Bill, but the main act is electoral registration, with the Bill laying out details of the move to individual electoral registration across Great Britain, catching up with Northern Ireland.

I’ve written before about why individual electoral registration is a good policy, and hence has been long pushed for by the Electoral Commission and supported by all the main political parties. In brief, it is to do with principle (your right to vote shouldn’t depend on whether or not someone else fills in a form on your behalf), with fraud (individual registration will be a bit like putting window locks on, cutting crime by making it harder) and with the problem of landlords registering themselves rather than their tenants. You can read more about that in What’s the point of switching to individual electoral registration? but on to the Bill…

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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 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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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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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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LibLink: Chris Rennard – Integrity in ensuring that people can vote

Over on epolitix, Lord (Chris) Rennard has a piece calling for changes to the electoral registration system to place the burden on individuals rather than households following the news that at least 6 million people are unregistered:

All parties and the Electoral Commission are agreed in principle that the electoral registration system should change to put the responsibility on individuals rather than households.

But the Commission report shows that our existing system is not as good as we thought and there are clearly dangers in making any changes. The biggest dangers to the integrity of the process would be to suggest that

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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 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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DPMQs: Clegg shows his passion on a range of issues

As usual, questions to the Deputy Prime Minister this week covered a large variety of subjects. Nick Clegg was on passionate form on several issues.

Harriet Harman asked if he would “admit that he urgently needs to take further action to help the young unemployed?”. Refreshingly, Nick Clegg did admit this, adding:

…it would be a real dereliction of duty if we did not do more to try to make sure that young people are given a real pathway into training, further and higher education or the labour market. As the right hon. and learned Lady will know, youth unemployment has increased

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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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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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Sadiq Khan, master of political caricature, I salute you

Listening to Deputy Prime Minister’s Question Time and also the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee’s hearing this week, I was tempted to blog about how in a throwback to the worst of New Labour, many Labour MPs seemed to be confusing something being a “civic duty” with it being a legal requirement. After all, it doesn’t say much for your idea of “civic duty” if you think it is synonymous with “legal requirement”.

I didn’t have time to blog about this… but then today Sadiq Khan writes for The Guardian:

The compulsory nature of our interaction with registration officers may seem

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DPMQs: Something has happened here

Whisper it. A quiet revolution has happened. Keep this quiet, please!

Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions used to be akin to Bear Baiting (with apologies to bears and ursine mammal lovers everywhere). Nick Clegg would stand up and have all sorts of sticks prodded into his midriff by Labour members, while their sistren and breathren used to shout and jeer. The poor bear Clegg used to get all red in the face and start shouting back at them, before escaping to nurse his wounds.

Something has changed.

This week, apart from the odd bit of rowdiness during a question on the consultation concerning …

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Michael Meacher has me confused over individual electoral registration

Dear Michael Meacher,

I’m puzzled by your views on individual electoral registration. You call it “insidious”, “underhand”, “utterly anti-democratic” and “Tory”. Yet the legislation for it was introduced by a Labour government, Labour’s 2010 manifesto boasted about Labour’s achievement in passing that legislation and – as far as I can see – you didn’t rebel once over the legislation when it was going through Parliament.

Of course there are issues about whether or not electoral registration should be voluntary and whether the annual canvass should be kept in 2014, but those are not the target of your written ire. Your …

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What’s the point of switching to individual electoral registration?

As some background to the current debates, I thought it useful to revive and update an old post of my on the subject as there has been relatively little coverage of the reasons why it has been supported by all parties (including Labour, who even talked up their achievement in introducing the first legislation for individual electoral registration before 2010, in their last general election manifesto).

The current electoral registration system is based on one registration form being delivered to each household, with the head of the household completing the form on behalf of everyone there and sending it back (“household …

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Individual electoral registration: consultation response

Here’s the response I’ve sent to the Electoral Registration Transformation Programme ([email protected]) in response to the consultation on the draft legislation for individual electoral registration, which closes on 14 October. For the background on the benefits of individual electoral registration, see What’s the point of switching to individual electoral registration?

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the draft legislation which has been published to implement individual electoral registration in Great Britain. The publication of a full draft for public consultation is a very welcome improvement on the way …

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Service voter registration rises again

In a written statement to the House of Commons this week, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Andrew Robathan reported on the latest survey of electoral registration levels amongst members of the armed forces:

It indicates that 75% of service personnel are registered to vote, up from 69% in 2009 and 60% in 2005. This represents the highest level of service registration since I first raised the issue back in 2005. Of those registered in 2010, the majority (77%) chose to register as ordinary rather than service voters. The level of voters registered as overseas voters has remained at 1%.

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Cornwall Council tightens up second home electoral registration

Cornwall Council members such as Alex Folkes have been pushing for some time for the council to tighten up its implementation of electoral registration rules in the face of the county’s large number of second homes.

Where people genuinely split their time between living elsewhere and living in a second home in Cornwall, they can register at both addresses (though vote in a Parliamentary election at only one of them). However, there are widespread concerns that many people who register to vote at a Cornish second home are not qualified to do so as they only use it as an …

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Electoral register database scrapped, at last

Back in 2009 I speculated that the plan for a centralised version of the country’s electoral registers (the CORE project) should win a prize for worst government IT project:

Back in early 2001 I sat in a consultation meeting where the project was being planned, with the data available on CD (ah! those were the days) and then securely online in early 2002 …

One of my favourite memories of this whole saga was when both the Electoral Commission and the Government in fairly quick succession carried out a consultation that went over pretty much the same ground. As a result,

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DPMQs: “Grotesque” and “beneath contempt” – Clegg on the Milly Dowler phone hacking allegations

The highest profile issue at Deputy Prime Minister’s questions today was the issue of press phone hacking in the light of the allegations concerning Milly Dowler and the News of the World.

Harriet Harman asked Nick Clegg to back Ed Miliband’s call for a general public inquiry into illegality in the newspaper industry. As someone has said, this is a bit like holding an inquiry into why we get bad weather. In a sign of divisions within Labour, Chris Bryant, in contrast, has called for a more narrow inquiry.

Nick Clegg stopped short of backing an inquiry but, instead, emphasised the importance …

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