Parties can back this simple change today to help bring in the ‘missing millions’

Josiah Mortimer, former Head of Communications

Posted on the 8th October 2020

A cross-party group of peers are backing an amendment to improve the accuracy of the electoral register setting out new ways to include 16 and 17- year olds on the nationwide list – so they are ready for their 18th birthday.

The amendment to the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill set to be heard this Thursday, is being put forward by a cross-party group of peers and seeks to improve the rates of registration for 16 and 17- year olds, setting out new proposals for more automatic electoral registration.

If passed, it would require the government to bring forward proposals to improve the completeness of the electoral register used for the drawing parliamentary boundaries.

Registration rates for eligible 16 and 17- year olds were estimated to be just 25% in 2018 – a drop from 45% in 2015. In contrast, 94% of those aged 65+ were estimated to be registered.

These proposals might include the automatic registration of 16- and 17 year olds, for example when they receive their National Insurance number.

The peers behind the amendment Lord Shutt (Liberal Democrat), Lord Wills (Labour), Lord Janvrin (Crossbench) and Lord Lexden (Conservative) hope the move would improve both completeness of the register for the purpose of drawing new electoral boundaries but also engagement with young people readying them for voting when they turn 18.

Lord Shutt, a Liberal Democrat peer, said the completeness of our electoral register is ‘vital’ in creating fair and equal boundaries and ensuring all citizens are democratically represented. He added: “As it stands, this bill risks ignoring millions of young people when the new boundaries are drawn. Young people of 16- and 17 already have the lowest rates of electoral registration, far below that of older citizens and, most worryingly, these rates continue to fall.” 

Lord Shutt notes that this amendment has support from across the House to address the problem of low registration rates. “Without improving the rates of registration amongst young people the electoral boundaries, when re-drawn, will systematically give them less democratic representation and prevent them from having their voices heard,” he said.

We’ve long known of the ‘missing millions’ from the electoral roll – there are estimated to be over nine million left off the register. As this bill shows being on the register, goes beyond being able to vote – it’s the basis for democratic representation and electoral boundaries across the country.

If passed, this is a first step to improving the accuracy of the electoral register for everyone – carrying registration with them through their voting lives.

The gaps in our system makes our democracy less equal and less effective. It is time to end the scandal of the ‘missing millions’ and ensure a truly universal franchise. We hope peers – and then the government – get behind this important change today.

[Update – The cross-party amendment passed the Lords by 293 votes to 215!]

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