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 set out our proposals [and] a large number of comments, and indeed very heartfelt concerns, have been raised about what it actually would mean for the register in the future….We will be producing very shortly…our response to the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee’s report on this, which will include a lot of our new ideas, responding not to all of the concerns – and some of the concerns we think are misplaced or are exaggerated – but it’s certainly prompted us to look very, very long and hard at a number of issues.

…[w]hat we are trying to do here is firstly bear down on fraud – that’s the central motivation of all of this – but to do so in a way which doesn’t needlessly or carelessly disenfranchise people.

The whole evidence session is available to watch until Sunday night on the BBC iPlayer.

* Nick Thornsby is a day editor at Lib Dem Voice.

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This entry was posted in Election law and News.


  • mike cobley 9th Feb '12 - 12:28pm

    Clegg is very clear about the drive for registration reform – “…what we are trying to do here is firstly bear down on fraud – that’s the central motivation of all of this…”

    The question is why? – how widespread is electoral fraud and how seriously has it affected electoral outcomes? From personal knowledge, I seem to recall very few investigations into fraud which have resulted in, for example, Westminster elections being rerun. If electoral fraud is a rarity, then one must call into serious doubt the stated reasons for registration reform.

  • It is not just electoral fraud that flows from the lectoral regsiter but also economic fraud as the elecoral regsiter is the core source of information for credit reference agencies too.

  • The problem is electoral fraud is very difficult to prove and trying to get an election result overturned is so expensive that it is almost never attempted. So there might be a lack of hard evidence however that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

    Individual registration is not just about fraud – it might be one of the hooks they hang the reason for change on, there are others as well such as updating a Victorian electoral system that if you would never adopt in the modern era.

    The world has moved beyond a system based on honesty of your head of your household to one of an individuals responsibility.

  • Of course, in a logical world, issues around improving voter registration would have taken place prior to changing boundaries based upon registered voters….

  • Tony Greaves 9th Feb '12 - 1:53pm

    If you think electoral fraud is a rarity you are not living in the real world.

    Tony Greaves

  • Chris Rennard 9th Feb '12 - 5:11pm

    The Government response to the consultation on changing the system for electoral registration was published today:
    Obviously a lot of issues are still open for debate before a Bill is published (probably after the Queens Speech in May).
    All those concerned with elections at any level should look carefully at how we may make changes to the way in which people are regsitered to vote. This is a hugely important issue in a democracy.
    It is good see from the response some advances in the process being proposed such as use of data-matching with the DWP to confirm the accuracy of existing entries on the register. If they can match data, they will put the person automatically on the register, with no need to invite them.
    There are still details to be worked about how proper canvassing is conducted by Electoral Registration Officers. The original plan for a 2013 annual canvass is to be pushed back to Spring 2014 to provide a canvass closer to 2015.
    They will seek to simplify online registration which may be difficult if you don’t have, or can’t find, your National Insurance number.
    The Government says that, “It remains our firm belief that registering to vote is a civic duty” but the idea of inviting people to disenfranchise themselves by opting out from this ‘duty’ still appears to be under consideration.
    The move to Individual Voter Registration (IER) in Northern Ireland was largely successful (albeit with a 10% drop in the number of people on the electoral register). This process sensibly moved the existing legal requirement to return a ‘household’ registration to a legal requirement to return an ‘individual form’.
    There is a particular worrying concern for many of us that some consideration may still be given to dropping the existing legal requirement to comply with the registration process (unlike what happened in Northern Ireland). Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) all state prominently on the present registration forms that it is a legal requirement to comply with this process. Many of them state that non compliance makes them liable for a fine of up to £1,000. The Electoral Commission has warned that changes such as dropping this legal requirement may mean that millions of people drop off the registers (and won’t be able to vote, serve on juries or obtain credit). The most literate ‘middle class’ voters will probably choose to register. But many other groups such as those who move home most frequently, private housing tenants, younger people, black and minority ethnic groups etc. are thought to be more likely to disappear from electoral registers on which they are already more likely to be missing.
    The Government response says that, “There has also been widespread discussion of whether it should be an offence for an individual not to register to vote when invited to do so. Despite the strong feelings expressed in the consultation on this issue, our view is that the evidence is not conclusive that introducing a new criminal offence will make any significant difference to registration levels, nor do we feel it is appropriate that we use the threat of a criminal offence to promote greater engagement in the electoral process. However, there are arguments for and against introducing a civil penalty for non-response to an invitation to register, and some important practical implications on how any such system should work which would have to be resolved before deciding on whether to take this approach. We will also consider how such an approach sits alongside the possible options on the opt-out with our key stakeholders and will set out our decision on this in the final legislation.”
    The fact is that it would not be a ‘new offence’ to carry forward the existing legal requiremement to return the registration forms from ‘households’ to ‘individuals’. For single person households, there would obviously be no change at all in the system as they are already ‘households’. Multi-person households would simply have more forms to fill in and each ‘individual’ would have the responsibility for completing the form, unlike the ‘household’ as at present.
    It may make sense as the official response says to make non-compliance with the registration process a ‘civil offence’ (like not paying council tax) rather than a criminal one. But unless the registration forms in future clearly state that it is a legal requirement to return them (the process by which you register to vote) with clear penalties if you do not, then we risk reducing very substantially the number of people able to vote in our elections.
    This is important not just for elections after 2015 but because future constituency (and ward) boundaries will be redrawn on the basis of the revised electoral registers.

  • Sue Doughty 10th Feb '12 - 9:35am

    Electoral fraud is common and some local activists will have been amazed to see how many people seem to live in a 2 bed flat. At least one local authority in recent years has been forced to scrap its electoral register and start again. Such events tend not to be publicised but may be accompanied by resignation at very senior level!

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