Briefing for MPs on improving electoral registration rates among attainers

Posted on the 10th November 2020

Parliamentary Constituencies Bill (consideration of amendments) –Tuesday 10th November.

What is the problem?

  • The Parliamentary Constituencies Bill 2019-21 proposes using the electoral registers as the data source to draw parliamentary constituencies but this data is less likely to include the names of young people than older people, since young people are often not registered to vote.
  • The problem has arisen partly because, since the introduction of Individual Electoral Registration (IER), the completeness of electoral registers has fallen among attainers (16 and 17-year olds who will reach electoral age within the life of the register).  There were 471,000 attainers on the registers in 2013, but this figure had fallen to 306,000 by 2019. Registration rates for eligible 16 and 17-year olds were estimated to be 25% in 2018 – a drop from 45% in 2015. In contrast, 94% of those aged 65+ were estimated to be registered.
  • This low level of registration among attainers should be of deep concern to anyone with the best interests of democracy in the UK at heart. Without revision to the Bill, the electoral boundaries will systematically give less democratic representation to young citizens.

On 8 October, at Report Stage in the House of Lords, a cross-party amendment to the Bill (see appendix for full text of amendment and signatories) was passed, by 293 votes to 215. The amendment requires the government to bring forward proposals to improve the completeness of the electoral register, in relation to attainers.

Potential solutions outlined in this amendment

  • The receipt of a National Insurance number (NiNo) from the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) is an important recognition of an individual’s rights and responsibilities in the economic sphere. It is also has the potential to be a moment where an individual is made aware of their rights and responsibilities in the democratic sphere.3
  • The cross-party House of Lords Select Committee on the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013, recommended piloting a system of automatic voter registration (AVR) for attainers.4
  • This amendment describes how such a system of AVR for attainers could work, with the DWP sharing information with Electoral Registration Officers (EROs), meaning a much higher proportion of attainers would be registered than is currently the case.
  • Another option, as outlined in the amendment, would be for the DWP to provide attainers with information on how to apply to join the electoral register, at the same time as communicating with them regarding the receipt of their NiNo.

Why the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill?

  • The Parliamentary Constituencies Bill 2019-21 proposes using the electoral registers as the data source to draw parliamentary constituencies, as is standard for the boundary review process.  As described above, however, this data source is incomplete and disproportionately less likely to include the names of young people.
  • It is important that constituency boundaries are based on data that are as complete and accurate as possible, reflecting the real number of electors in each area. These straightforward proposals would go some way to improving the completeness of the data that will be used to draw constituency boundaries.

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