Government refuses to include extra online registrations from referendum rush in redrawing constituency boundaries
Ministers have refused to reopen the voting register for redrawing parliamentary constituency boundaries – despite fresh evidence that huge numbers of names are missing.
The Labour Party leapt on last week’s embarrassing crash of the registration website - because of massive demand - to argue that the data supplied by councils is now woefully out of date.
The Government defied the Electoral Commission by completing the switch to individual electoral registration (IER) last December, scrubbing out any names that had not been transferred from the old household rolls.
Crucially, this data will be used to redraw the parliamentary boundaries and cut 50 seats before the next general election in 2020.
In December, ministers rejected claims that a million names could be missing, arguing that - after intensive canvassing - all “genuine voters with a pulse” had been identified and switched over.
But after the registration website crashed in the rush to vote in next week’s EU referendum, an emergency 48-hour extension led to another 453,000 applications to vote. Many are thought to be younger voters, less likely to support the Conservatives, who will not be counted when the boundaries are shifted.
In the House of Commons, Gloria De Piero, Laboour’s spokesperson on the issue, said: “The number of registered voters has gone up massively since December 2015 - in some constituencies, the equivalent of two extra wards have been added.
“Will the minister therefore reassure us that he cannot possibly use the December figures to redraw the boundaries? Or will his Government go back to using voter registration for their own political gain once this referendum is over?”
John Penrose, the constitutional reform minister, poured scorn on that claim – and argued the alternative to using the December 2015 figures was worse.
He told MPs: “I am intrigued that the honourable lady thinks she knows what has happened to individual constituencies’ electoral rolls, because the final versions will not be published for another week or 10 days.
“Whatever the outcome of that publication, it cannot be right that we carry on with the existing political constituency boundaries, which are based on the electoral rolls from 2001 or, in some parts of the country, from 2000. They are shockingly out of date and we absolutely need to update them.”
The Electoral Commission confirmed it will reveal the size of the electorate for the June 23 referendum – and, therefore, the number of additional voters since December – early next week.
Next month, it will also publish fresh research on the accuracy of the registers drawn up each local council, under IER.
The commission had called for the household rolls to be used until December 2016, partly because software problems left it unable to spot the areas with most ‘missing’ voters.