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Electoral Commission advocates data sharing to strengthen registers

27/09/19

Parliamentary Correspondent

The Electoral Commission has urged ministers to use “trusted public data” to prevent as many as 9.4 million people losing their vote.

Polling station sign

Up to 17% of eligible voters are not listed on electoral registers by their correct address details, a report on their accuracy and completeness has revealed.

To tackle the problem, ministers must start exploiting the “reliable” sources of the information that other government databases hold, it recommends.

For example, when a motorist informs the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) of an address change for their driver’s licence, that data should be shared automatically to update the electoral roll.

Similarly, young people could be enrolled on to the register when they apply for a National Insurance card as they look for employment.

Age factor

Crucially, younger people and private renters – who tend to vote Labour - were the most likely to be missing, or wrongly registered, the study found, potentially skewing election results.

Under 60% of private renters were found to be correctly signed up, compared to 91% who own their houses outright.

Only 71% of young people aged between 18 and 34 are accurately listed, far lower than the 94% of people aged 65 and over.

Sir John Holmes, the commission’s chairman, said: “Better use of public data could hold the key to modernising the electoral registration process.

“We know that when people move house, registering to vote may not be a priority.

“Giving electoral administrators access to reliable and trusted public data would help them more easily identify people who have moved and may be eligible to register to vote.

“Being able to change your electoral registration details whilst, for example, updating your driving licence could be another way of making it easier for people to ensure they are registered.”

Councils' role

At present, individuals are responsible for ensuring their details are up-to-date on the electoral register, with local authorities writing to citizens in between elections to check.

But automatic registration, such as the Commission has recommended, is already used in countries including Canada, Australia, Denmark and Germany – and the Labour Party is exploring the potential of switching to the system in the UK.

The commission’s data was collected via a house-to-house survey of 5,079 addresses across 127 local authority areas across Britain. More than one tenth of entries were found to be inaccurate, an issue affecting up to 5.6 million people.

Image from iStock, Tyler Arabas

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