New rules to protect survivors of domestic abuse could affect digital solutions from canvassing pilots
Survivors of domestic abuse will be able to have their names and addresses removed from local authority voting rolls under new Government plans.
The rules will be relaxed to make it far easier for victims of abuse to register to vote anonymously to protect them from their attackers.
Ministers have said the move will also prevent people using the data on electoral rolls to track down victims of stalking, as well as protect some witnesses in criminal court cases.
The current law has been fiercely criticised because anonymity is only granted with a court order, or with the agreement of a senior police officer. Many survivors of domestic abuse are unable to pass those tests and – if they are too scared to register openly – lose their right to vote.
Minister for the Constitution Chris Skidmore (pictured) said: “It is clear that the existing system has often let down those affected by domestic abuse.
“That is why today we are setting out proposals to reform the anonymous registration scheme in England and Wales to make it more accessible for those escaping domestic abuse.
“We are clear that those who have been constrained by their abusers must have full freedom to express themselves in the democratic process.”
Under the changes, someone could be granted anonymity with documents including evidence of a person having been convicted of domestic abuse, or “findings of fact” that abuse took place.
Evidence that someone has been granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK as a victim of domestic violence, or granted legal aid on domestic violence grounds, could also be sufficient. And the number of police officers authorised to grant anonymity could be expanded seven-fold, with social workers added to the list.
The move could have implications for the Government’s promotion of digital technology in canvassing for electoral registers. In November it announced a series of pilots under which local authorities in England and Wales will experiment with technology to find ways of reducing the cost of the annual canvass.
The new rules on anonymity would impose an extra requirement on any digital solutions developed under the pilots.
The move was welcomed by Polly Neate, the chief executive of Women’s Aid, who said: “The proposed new measures send out a clear message to all survivors of domestic abuse that their voices matter, and their participation in politics matters.”
Anyone wishing to comment on the proposals put forward is asked to email the Cabinet Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The changes will apply in England and Wales only, because Scotland is about to gain responsibility for registration for elections to its Parliament and local councils.
Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0