This week, the Electoral Commission published a report highlighting how millions of people are missing from Britain’s electoral registers. The report details how up to 8 million people are not correctly registered and are at risk of missing out on their right to participate in the democratic process.
In the words of Craig Westwood, the Electoral Commission’s Director of Communications, Policy & Research, this situation “is a consequence of an outdated registration system that disproportionately affects private renters and young people”. There are also wide disparities among people of different ethnicities. While 87% of white people are correctly registered, only 80% of Asian people and 72% of black people are.
Westwood goes on to say, “without action, we’ll continue to see large numbers of people unable to take part in elections. The electoral community needs a clear plan to ensure that electoral registration policies are modernised so that people are registered and able to exercise their right to vote. As part of this plan, governments will need to pass legislation to enable data to be shared with electoral administrators”.
It’s time to update our electoral registration system
We thoroughly agree with the Electoral Commission’s analysis regarding our out-of-date electoral registration system. We have long been calling for reforms to ensure as many people as possible are signed up to vote. We believe automatic voter registration, where citizens are automatically enrolled on the electoral register based on information already held on other government databases, is the best approach.
Also this week, Welsh Government minister, Mick Antoniw, announced plans for moves towards automatic voter registration for Senedd elections and local council elections in Wales. He said, “we will look at all the different data sources where people are already registered, such as the NHS and Department for Work and Pensions, and we would pull all that information onto a digitised electoral register…This is all about making it accessible, making it easier for people to participate in our democratic institutions”.
We need UK-wide automatic voter registration
The UK government at Westminster should urgently introduce similar legislation for UK general elections, to ensure as few people as possible are denied their vote by an outmoded registration system. Alongside this, the unnecessary voter ID legislation, which a separate Electoral Commission report recognised disenfranchised at least 14,000 people at the May 2023 local elections, should be repealed.
Alongside protecting the democratic rights of individuals, automatic voter registration would also ensure that UK parliamentary constituencies would be drawn on a fairer basis. As Peter Kellner noted in a recent blog, unlike most established democracies, the UK’s parliamentary constituencies are based on registered voters, rather than population estimates.
Because younger people, renters and people from ethnic minorities are less likely to be registered correctly, this means that places where lots of these types of people live are not properly represented on Britain’s electoral map. As Kellner notes, the average population of constituencies in England and Wales is just over 103,000. However, in Conservative-held seats the average is 97,000 and in Labour-held seats it is 114,000, a big disparity.
Our voting system requires the fundamental reform of proportional representation for UK general elections. However, while we are burdened with First-Past-The-Post, we should at least ensure all voters are registered and that constituencies properly reflect the distribution of voters throughout the UK.
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