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MPs urge automatic voter registration



Commons committee also backs online voting by 2020

People should be registered to vote automatically using existing government data to help tackle a democratic "crisis", MPs say today. Ministers should also introduce online voting by 2020, which has strong public support, the commons political and constitutional reform committee recommends.

Its report also calls for voters to be able to register on election day - or close to it - instead of 14 working days in advance, to boost poor turnout.

The radical measures are proposed to tackle what the MPs call a "crisis of democratic engagement", despite the prospect of the closest general election for decades.

They come as the Electoral Commission launches a massive social media drive to encourage people to register to vote in time for the 7 May poll.

Around 7.5 million people are missing from electoral rolls and National Voter Registration Day is an attempt to slash that tally, before the April 20 registration deadline.

The commission is targeting 18 to 24-year-olds by arranging for a reminder to appear on the Facebook page of every UK user of the social network.

Meanwhile, today's report recommends:

* Automatic registration - dismissing government arguments that it would be "incompatible with the idea that registering to vote is a civic duty". It suggests "public sector data is used to identify potential electors and then to add them to the register without requiring them to complete an application form".

* Online voting - backed by almost 60% of the more than 16,000 survey responses the committee received.

The report acknowledges concerns about fraud and secrecy, but concludes: "Online voting could lead to a substantial increase in the level of participation at UK elections, particularly for groups such as young people and British citizens living overseas."

* Registration "closer to the date of an election, or on an election day itself - which also has "some public support".

The report says: "There is no good reason for retaining administrative procedures that create
barriers to participating at elections."

Graham Allen, the committee's Labour chairman, said: "We are recommending that the government consider some radical changes, like online voting, holding elections at the weekend and letting voters register to vote on election day.
We believe a serious problem needs serious answers."

At the 2010 general election, 16 million eligible voters - 34.9% of the electorate - did not take part, more than this who voted for any one party.

Allen said: "This is not an acceptable state of affairs for a modern democracy. If we do not take urgent action to make elections more accessible to the public and convince them that it is worth voting we will be facing a crisis of democratic engagement."

The committee's report: Voter engagement in the UK

Pictured: Bus crossing Westminster Bridge by Paul Clarke © |

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