Hundreds of thousands of Scottish voters ‘missing’ in event of snap election

Posted on the 2nd October 2019

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

  • For immediate release, Wednesday 2nd October.

New figures from the Electoral Commission reveal that hundreds of thousands of potential Scottish voters 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 16% of people who should be on the Parliamentary roll are not, while 13% 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 630,000 and 890,000 people in Scotland 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 Scotland. Renters and young people in Scotland are particularly likely to be excluded.

Even more worryingly, the number of registered electors is actually going down [see figures at bottom of PR], despite the population rising, and the number eligible to be on the register growing significantly through the adoption of votes at 16/17.

And there are another 400,000 and 745,000 inaccurate entries on the local government registers in December 2018 – with the wrong details for people without them necessarily being prevented from voting.

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 Scotland 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 an 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.”

Alice Kinghorn-Gray, Campaigns Officer for Electoral Reform Society Scotland, said:

“That voter registration numbers are actually going down is deeply concerning. We urge the Scottish government to explore how it can use its powers to ensure everyone has a stake in our democracy.

“The gaps in registration are creating major inequalities in our elections, with young people and renters particularly affected. Parties must respond with action, and start to bring in the ‘missing millions’. Let’s ensure the next election does not exclude huge swathes of our country and instead represents the gold standard for participation.”


Notes to Editors

Summary of electoral roll completeness, Scotland and Great Britain, Dec 2018
Scotland Great Britain
Urban/rural Urban 82% 83%
Rural 89% 85%
Gender Male 85% 83%
Female 82% 83%
Age 18-34 68% 71%
35-54 87% 86%
55+ 92% 93%
Tenure Own outright 95% 91%
Mortgage/shared ownership 87% 86%
Social renter 81% 83%
Private renter 49% 58%
Rent-free/other 73% 69%
Socio-economic group AB 88% 86%
C1 85% 84%
C2 80% 80%
DE 78% 80%
Adults in household 1 79% 86%
2 84% 84%
3 to 5 85% 81%
6+ 78%
Length of residence Up to 1 year 32% 36%
Between 1 year and 2 years 65% 71%
Between 2 and 5 years 84% 84%
Between 5 and 10 years 91% 90%
Between 10 and 16 years 95% 88%
16 years or more 94% 92%
Nationality UK and Irish 85% 86%
EU 58% 54%
Commonwealth 58% 62%

Full figures in ‘Scotland’ section here:

The numbers on the register in Scotland has actually declined since 2014 – despite 16/17 year olds being enfranchised for local elections, and the population rising

It’s gone down… From the EC:

2017-2018: the number of parliamentary and local government electors decreased in England, Scotland and Wales, but increased in Northern Ireland

Scotland – changes from 2017-2018

  • Parliamentary electors – a decrease of 0.6%
  • Local government electors – a decrease of 0.4%

Registered electors by year

Note: The population is also growing, so the figures below should be going up. In addition, in 2015 the voting age in Scotland was lowered to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in Local Government and Scottish Parliament elections.

However: the number on the register hasn’t kept up:

Scottish register 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Local 4,131,926 4,029,958 4,089,477 4,121,140 4,105,824
Parliamentary 4,035,394 3,896,852 3,929,963 3,950,643 3,925,820

We actually have a smaller number of people on the register from as of 2018 compared to 2014. The introduction of Individual Electoral Registration had a part to play in this, with universities/colleges banned from registering young people automatically.

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