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Electoral Commission warns of ‘lost’ voters

18/07/16

Report includes call for better online service for people to check if they are on register

A “generation of voters” will be failed unless the voter registration system is made fit for purpose, ministers have been warned.

The Electoral Commission has sharply criticised the Government’s reluctance to take steps to plug alarming gaps in the rolls, following the switch to individual electoral registration (IER).

It has also called for people to be better able to check online whether they are on the register.

The watchdog’s newly published report on the switch says the accuracy of local authority registers rose by four percentage points, whilst their completeness fell by less than one percentage point.

This meant that, in December 2015 – when IER was rushed through by the Government - around 8 million people were not correctly registered at their current address.

Problems masked

Furthermore, the small dip in completeness “masks some specific problems”, the Commission says – particularly among the young and private renters.

Between June 2014 and December 2015, the number of 18-19 year olds on the register fell by 9% among and the number of private renters by 6%.

Jenny_WatsonAccording to outgoing commissioner Jenny Watson (pictured), the solution should be automatic registration before voters turn 18 – something rejected by ministers recently, albeit before David Cameron’s abrupt resignation. 16 and 17 year-olds could be registered when they receive their national insurance number and there should be extra efforts to prevent electors dropping off when they move home.

In addition, the online system should be upgraded to enable people to check whether they are registered – freeing up electoral registration officers (EROs) from having to deal with duplicate applications.

Watson said: “It was undoubtedly right to move to a system of individual electoral registration, but we cannot wait more than a decade for the next phase of change to be delivered. This would mean failing a generation of voters over at least two more UK general election cycles.

“There is appetite for a modern electoral register among EROs, civil society groups, and among electors themselves – and I hope that the Government will embrace it.”

Data incomplete

The Commission found that the registers, on December 1 2015, were 91% accurate – but only 84% complete. Completing the transition to IER removed the names of any voters that had not been data-matched and transferred from the old household rolls.

 Between December and the EU referendum on 23 June, more than 2 million further people registered to vote, taking the voting rolls to a record total of 46,499,537. But those names – almost 4.5% of the total – will be ignored when Westminster’s constituency boundaries are redrawn to create 50 fewer seats in 2018.

John Penrose, the constitutional reform minister, has insisted it is too late for the Boundary Commission to use the most recent register when making its calculations.

Register: Library & Alerts

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