Campaigners call for moves to automatic, universal registration in Wales and across UK, amid ‘ticking time bomb’ warning for democracy.
New figures from the Electoral Commission reveal that hundreds of thousands of potential voters in Wales are missing from the electoral roll – and the problem is getting worse.
The Electoral Commission’s first major study of the ‘completeness’ of the electoral register in three years reveals that 18% of people who should be on the Parliamentary roll are not, while 12% 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 410,000 and 560,000 people in Wales 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 Wales. Renters and young people in Wales are particularly likely to be excluded.
And there are another 200,000 to 330,000 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 Wales 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’.
Jess Blair, Director of Electoral Reform Society Cymru, said:
“These figures should sound the alarm for anyone who cares about democracy. Hundreds of thousands of potential voters in Wales are effectively missing from the electoral roll, representing a major barrier to political equality and democratic engagement. The worrying reality is that any snap election will be on the basis of a flawed franchise.
“You shouldn’t have to opt into 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.
“The Welsh Government has been scoping automated registration in their 2018 consultation on local government reform but has limited powers in this area. That means it’s now time for the UK government to legislate to ensure universal registration so that 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 nation and instead represents the gold standard for participation.”
Notes to Editors
The results for Wales in December 2018 show that:
- Parliamentary [electoral] registers are 82% complete and 88% accurate (i.e. 18% of potential voters are missing from the electoral roll for Parl elections)
- Local government [electoral] registers are 81% complete and 89% accurate
The findings lead to an estimate of between 410,000 and 560,000 people missing from the local government register
There were an estimated 200,000 to 330,000 inaccurate entries on the local government registers in December 2018.
Wales registration – 2017-2018:
- Parliamentary electors – a decrease of 1.4%
- Local government electors – a decrease of 1.2%
In other words – around half a million are missing/excluded from the electoral roll for local elections, with a slightly smaller number for General Elections (which exclude EU citizens). This is a real impediment to free and fair elections and political equality.
Full stats here (subsection: Wales). Young people and renters are particularly excluded 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-2018-electoral-registers-great-britain/national-estimates-accuracy-and-completeness
ERS Cymru calling for moves to automatic registration (inc. allowing people to tick ‘register’ whenever they engage with public sector) – to ensure everyone can use their vote and be heard.