Data problems are holding back to the transition to individual electoral registration until the end of 2016
Problems with electoral data have prompted the Electoral Commission to recommend that the move to individual electoral registration (IER) should not take place until December of next year, despite hopes that it should be moved forward to the end of this year.
The watchdog has published a report that says, although the transition is proceeding well, significant problems are still to be overcome. As a result, any existing entries that have not been verified against government or locally held records should not be removed until December 2016.
One of the problems is that there are significant variations in the distribution between local authorities for the 1.9 million entries, accounting for 4% of the total, that come from the previous household registration system.
It is not possible to tell how many of these are for people who no longer live at the relevant address and have not yet registered individually.
Also, while electoral registration officers are working to reduce the number, the commission is unable to judge their impact. This creates a risk of eligible voters being removed from the register.
This follows reports earlier in the year of software problems with electoral management systems at a number of local authorities. These affected the quality of the data that electoral registration officers could provide to the commission.
Jenny Watson, chair of the Electoral Commission, said: “The move to a new registration system – the biggest change to electoral registration in almost 100 years – has gone well so far and the ability to register online is popular. The rise in the number of entries on the electoral registers overall is also welcome news, though not everyone on the current register has moved onto the new system.
“Taking into account the data and evidence which is available to us at this point, and the scale and importance of the polls scheduled for next May, we recommend that the end of transition should take place in December 2016 as set out in the legislation.”
The decision to stick with the original date will mean affect elections planned for the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the mayor of London and London Assembly, police and crime commissioners and some local authorities due to take place in May 2016.
The report also says that online registration has proved effective, with 77% of applications since the introduction of IER having been made through the channel. It has been particularly popular among young people and overseas voters.
Pictured: Polling Station in Haverhill 2007 by 159753 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons