Friday 17 September 2010

Data matching to identify Britain's 3.5 million 'missing' voters

TOWN halls will be urged to take part in 'data-matching' trials in a bid to find Britain's 3.5 million 'missing' voters. The move to plug the gaps on electoral registers was revealed alongside plans to speed up the introduction of compulsory individual voter registration.

Under the trials, local council registration officers would be able to compare their electoral rolls with other public databases in order to identify missing voters - and urge them to register.

Cabinet Office minister, Mark Harper, told MPs: "If it is effective, we will roll it out more widely across local authorities on a permanent basis to help ensure that our register is as complete as possible.

"I will be writing to all local authorities responsible for electoral registration to invite them to put themselves forward to take part and I strongly encourage them to work in partnership with us on this."

The move was immediately welcomed by the Electoral Commission, which has raised the alarm over the estimated 3.5m unregistered voters - thought to be primarily the poor, the young and ethnic minorities.

A spokesman said; "We are pleased to see progress being made in trialing data matching to help identify those missing from the electoral register that should be on it."

However, Harper was keen to reassure MPs that the switch to individual - rather than household - registration did not dilute the Con-Lib coalition's commitment to rolling back Labour's so-called 'database state'.

The minister told them: "I want to make it absolutely clear that there will be no new databases."

Instead, town hall registration officers will check the information they receive from people applying to register with information held by the department for work and pensions (DWP).

The current system, under which the head of a household is asked to list eligible voters, but does not have to provide ID for them, has long been criticised as wide open to fraud.

The switch to voters registering themselves was planned for 2015 at the earliest, but will now be brought forward to 2014 for new voters.

But, to prevent a big drop in the number of voters, those already on the electoral register will have until after the 2015 election to comply with the new rules.

Labour's Jack Straw, however, questioned the need to "rush" the legislation and pointed to the danger of reducing the number of registered voters. The shadow deputy prime minister said: "The speeding up of individual registration, but without safeguards or any additional funding potentially, could undermine the integrity of our democracy."

A draft Bill on the measure will be introduced in 2010-11 for pre-legislative scrutiny, followed by a Bill to introduce individual registration from 2014.