Association protests at requirement for homeless people to use printers in registering to vote
Election adminstrators have protested at the Government’s refusal to “tweak” IT systems to remove obstacles that prevent homeless people registering to vote.
Ministers are under fire because around 400,000 people with no permanent address are unable to register online, a process quicker than “boiling an egg” the Government boasts.
The Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA) has said it will protest to the Cabinet Office about the unfair hurdles the homeless face in order to register to vote, at a meeting expected to take place this week.
Under the rules, anyone without a permanent home cannot register online but must print out a “local connection” form and return it to their local council.
Instead, they must print out and return a form, when – as one electoral administrator pointed out – they are the people least likely “to have a printer, never mind the room to house it”.
Dave Jones, an electoral administrator in South-East England, said: “The people in our society least likely to be able to afford to have a printer, never mind the room to house it, are the only ones expected to print their own form.
“Alternatively, they have to contact their local electoral services office, with many offices passed from call centre pillar to call centre post. Our registration rates would be catastrophically low if all electors were expected to do this.”
One estimate is that up to 400,000 people are affected, most so-called ‘sofa surfers’ relying on friends for a roof over their heads, as well as people in hostels and the street homeless.
John Turner, the AEA’s chief executive, said: “We intend to raise the issue of the registration of the homeless at our regular meeting next week with the Cabinet Office.
“It is now 17 years since declarations of local connection were introduced. Given the length of time that has elapsed, we believe that the current provisions need to be reviewed.”
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "This Government is committed to ensuring that everyone who is eligible to vote is able to do so, addressing the barriers for all under registered groups to ensure that everyone can participate in the democratic process.”
Meanwhile, the Government is spending millions on changing the law to allow Britons living abroad to vote in elections in this country. Jones said the contrast in priorities and resources “does not sit easily with our professional conscience”.
He suggested a similar number of overseas voters would register once the “15-year rule” on residency abroad is scrapped, with a “staggering” difference in resources.
Changing IT systems for ex-pats will cost at least £800,000, ministers have acknowledged – with unknown extra costs for local authorities.
“The Government has put significant money, and electoral registration staff significant time, into registering overseas voters,” Jones said, and that it “wouldn’t need much tweaking” to IT systems to allow online registration of people without a permanent residential address.
The Labour Party said the situation was another example of the Conservatives “giving handouts to the wealthiest whilst disenfranchising the poor and vulnerable”.