If millions of British voters lose their voice, democracy will suffer
The introduction of Individual Electoral Registration (IER) is a huge change to the way we do elections. It has to be done right. We want to see the government working closely with civic groups, electoral registration officers and others to ensure every last step is taken to maximise registration. Special care must be taken to prevent at-risk groups from failing to register and have their say at the election.
Why did we change to Individual Electoral Registration?
The old system was household registration. This is a Victorian-era system from a time when being able to vote was based on property rights. It has been described as an ‘open door’ to fraud as you could easily register non-existent people at your address.
We were the only Western democracy that still used household registration.
The introduction of Individual Electoral Registration (IER) will improve the accuracy of the register and help to counter fraud. It’s the right move, it just needs to be done in the right way.
What’s the problem?
Amongst the myriad other worries around moving house, registering to vote can often take a low priority. Whereas under household registration, one resident could sign everyone up to vote, under the new system everyone will have to register individually. Many people may only realise they didn't get around to registering at election time, when it is already too late.
The Electoral Commission's latest analysis shows that "areas with a high concentration of certain demographics – students, private renters and especially young adults" where people move on a regular basis, are particularly in danger of having low registration numbers.
Constituency boundaries used to be based on the local population size, but they are now going to be based on the new electoral roll. The Electoral Commission recommended that ensuring everyone was transferred to the new system would take two years, but the government cut this to one year with a deadline of December 2015.
Unrepresentative electoral registers will lead to unrepresentative constituencies. Being unregistered doesn’t mean you don’t deserve support from your MP. Under the current proposals urban and socially deprived areas where registration is low are likely to have fewer MPs per person than affluent areas where registration is high.
We support the drawing of boundaries based on population rather than the electoral register.
We want all parties to turn their minds now to the next ‘registration revolution’. We need to further modernise our system to make it fit for 21st century voters.
We are looking into a number of innovations which could help make IER fit for purpose. These include a 'motor voter' law which would increase the opportunities for citizens to get on the electoral register; same-day registration; and increased on-line capabilities for registering to vote.
Briefing: Electoral Registration – Order and Regulations, December 2013 [pdf]
Report: Missing Millions – Roundtable into Individual Electoral Registration[pdf]
Briefing: Electoral Registration and Administration Bill Committee stage briefing – day 2 [pdf]