Hundreds of thousands of Northern Ireland voters ‘missing’ in event of snap election

Posted on the 17th October 2019

Campaigners call for moves to automatic, universal registration in Northern Ireland and across UK, amid ‘ticking time bomb’ warning for democracy. 

  • For immediate release, Wednesday 16th October.
  • Statement from the Electoral Reform Society. Contact Jon Narcross on [email protected] / 07794728820

New figures from the Electoral Commission reveal that hundreds of thousands of potential voters in Northern Ireland are missing from the electoral roll.

The Electoral Commission’s first major study of the ‘completeness’ of the electoral register in three years reveals that 26% of people who should be on the Parliamentary roll are not, while 20% of entries are inaccurate.

Unless those missing from the register sign up soon after a snap election is announced, they risk being disenfranchised, the ERS warn.

While exact numbers are unavailable for the Parliamentary register, between 360,000 and 430,000 people in Northern Ireland are missing from the local electoral roll.

As the Parliamentary register and local register ‘completeness’ levels are almost the same, we can infer that hundreds of thousands of people are missing from the electoral roll for a snap election in Northern Ireland. Renters and young people in Northern Ireland are particularly likely to be excluded.

And there are another 230,000 and 285,000 inaccurate entries on the local government registers in December 2018 – with the wrong details for people without them necessarily being prevented from voting.

The rates of completeness and accuracy put Northern Ireland below the level of the rest of the United Kingdom.

Many other countries – including Canada, Finland and Belgium – have more universal voter registration systems, where people can sign up whenever they engage with government bodies, or they are automatically opted in.

The Electoral Reform Society are calling for moves towards automatic registration to deal with the ‘hidden crisis of under-registration’.

Dr Jess Garland, Director of Policy and Research for the ERS said:
“These figures should sound the alarm for anyone who cares about democracy. Hundreds of thousands of potential voters in Northern Ireland are effectively missing from the electoral roll, representing a major barrier to political equality and democratic engagement. That means any snap election will be on the basis of a flawed franchise.

“You shouldn’t have to opt in to your right to vote. As the Electoral Commission says, we need to move towards automatic registration now, starting with being able to check you are registered online, and being able to register whenever you engage with government bodies or services. There’s widespread consensus on this – now it just needs to be done.”

Jess Blair, spokesperson for the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“That one in four people are effectively ‘missing’ from the electoral roll and could be unable to vote in a snap election should sound the alarm for anyone who cares about democracy. Hundreds of thousands of potential voters in Northern Ireland risk being excluded, representing a major barrier to political equality and democratic engagement. Any snap election will be on the basis of a flawed franchise – and not only that, but a deeply unequal one, with renters and young people particularly at risk of being left out. That affects the issues that are heard in the corridors of power. The blunt truth is that if you’re not registered, politicians don’t have the slightest incentive to listen to you.

“We need a registration revolution. As the Electoral Commission says, we need to move towards automatic registration now, starting with being able to check you are registered online, and being able to register whenever you engage with government bodies or services.

“There’s widespread consensus on this – now it just needs to be done. We urge all public bodies and civil society groups in Northern Ireland and across the UK to work together to improve registration levels – and reform the system to ensure voter registration is universal, not a postcode lottery.”

ENDS
Notes to Editors

Summary of electoral roll completeness, Northern Ireland and Great Britain, Dec 2018
Northern Ireland Great Britain
Urban/rural Urban 72% 83%
Rural 76% 85%
Gender Male 72% 83%
Female 73% 83%
Tenure Own outright 88% 91%
Mortgage/shared ownership 72% 86%
Social renter 64% 83%
Private renter 38% 58%
Socio-economic group AB 80% 86%
C1 72% 84%
C2 76% 80%
DE 63% 80%
Adults in household 1 72% 86%
2 73% 84%
3 to 5 72% 81%
6+ 78%
Length of residence Up to 1 year 11% 36%
Between 1 year and 2 years 29% 71%
Between 2 and 5 years 61% 84%
Between 5 and 10 years 78% 90%
Between 10 and 16 years 80% 88%
16 years or more 90% 92%

Full figures for Northern Ireland here:  https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/who-we-are-and-what-we-do/our-views-and-research/our-research/accuracy-and-completeness-electoral-registers/2019-report-accuracy-and-completeness-2018-electoral-registers-northern-ireland

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