Opinion: the forgotten deadline in the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill

With the Yes to AV campaign getting into full swing (and attempts by the No camp to do the same), it is perhaps unsurprising that the majority of the recent commentary on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill has revolved around Part I of that Bill, which deals with the AV referendum (and the earlier post on LDV by Keith Sharp about the message of the pro-AV campaign is essential reading). But in the excitement, we seem to have allowed a very significant deadline to pass by – the deadline for the compilation of Electoral Rolls on which the quota for the Boundary Reviews will be based, which expired today.

If the Bill is passed in its present form, and irrespective of what happens in the AV referendum in May, the target – or “electoral quota”, to use the language of the new Schedule 2 s 2(1) introduced by s 11 of the Bill – will be defined by dividing the electorate of the UK (minus the electorates of Shetland & Orkney and Na h-Eileanan an Iar) by 598. The “electorate” is defined (in s 9(2) of the same new Schedule) by reference to the registers required to be maintained by electoral officers by s 13 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, the relevant part of which states:

“(1)Each registration officer must for each year publish a revised version of his registers—

(a)<...> during the period starting with [15 October] and ending with 1st December in that year or such later date as may be prescribed”

Since the Review is set to start next year, the register that would be used is the register in force today. You might recall that, at the time that the bill was first introduced, much noise was made about the supposed 3 million people missing from the registers. We have known that today would be the deadline for getting them registered. So why hasn’t more been done to encourage people to register, so that the boundary review might take them into account?

One simplistic explanation that springs to mind is that the majority of the 3 million “missing” people are in inner-city constituencies, which tend to be represented by Labour – and since Labour has been vociferous in their attack on the planned redistribution of constituencies, calling it “gerrymandering”, they have not had the time, or the inclination, to encourage people to actually register to vote.

It is, I think, unfortunate that there has been more news coverage of the campaigns to get areas exempted from the Bill (I talk about my own view of the Keep Cornwall Whole campaign in a recent post on my own blog) than of the fact that many are missing from the registers that will determine the quota. For me, equal votes matter most – with the exception of those whose votes will not be counted, because they are not able to vote in the first place.

All is not lost, however, for the 3 million people missing from the registers. Before the Lords conclude their examination of the Bill, they could, it seems to me, insert an amendment requiring the relevant register date to be extended – either to 31st of December or, perhaps, to sometime next year, to a time after the Bill is passed. It could, perhaps, even be done by Order, or some similar document (under the power of s 13(1)(a) of the 1983 Act). A proper publicity campaign could then be carried out, and the missing 3 million might be given their voice. If there was ever an excuse for extending a deadline, the potential benefit to so many people should surely be one.

Nik Alatortsev was a Candidate for the Kensal Green ward of Brent Council at the 2010 election.

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3 Comments

  • Patrick Smith 3rd Dec '10 - 8:31pm

    The franchise for all residents over 18 years of age under electoral law, should be the subject of closer scrutiny by Local Councils to find the missing 3 million unregistered voters as Nik points out, in his perspicacious article.

    The missing 3 million voters are each under a legal duty to register under the electoral law.

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