The government has a chance to right a major electoral injustice on Tuesday

Josiah Mortimer, former Head of Communications

Posted on the 9th November 2020

The government is being urged to bring in the ‘missing millions’ of unregistered voters, ahead of a vote on the issue on Tuesday.

An amendment to the Parliamentary Constituencies Bill, passed by the House of Lords in October, warns that the new parliamentary constituencies will fail to reflect their communities unless action is taken to close a ‘staggering’ registration gap.

As it stands, the new constituency boundaries will not take into account roughly nine million people who aren’t on the register. Renters and BAME people are also highly disadvantaged by this, as seats are skewed towards demographics with higher registration rates. It means MPs in areas with high youth populations, for example, have to represent many more people than those without.

Tuesday’s amendment – backed by the Electoral Reform Society, British Youth Council, National Youth Organisation, Young Citizens and more – would ensure the government sets out an action plan to bring in the millions of people, particularly young people, who are currently missing from the electoral roll. It calls for moves towards automatic registration, such as registering people when they receive their National Insurance numbers.

Since the introduction of Individual Electoral Registration (IER) in 2014, 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 just 25% in 2018 – a drop from 45% in 2015. In contrast, a whopping 94% of those aged 65+ were estimated to be registered.

Young people are likely to be highly under-counted when constituency boundaries are drawn up. Registration rates are low among young people across the board. This creates a negative cycle, where young people do not join the register, and are subsequently more ‘ignorable’ by public figures.

Commenting on the amendment, Dr Jess Garland, Director of Policy and Research at the ERS, said:  “Simple changes like adding people to the private electoral register when they receive their National Insurance details would go a long way over time to closing Britain’s shocking registration gap.

“Without simple but vital reforms, parliamentary constituencies will exclude swathes of young people when they’re drawn up. There are many things that can be done to address political inequality in the UK, but this would be a good start. We urge the government to get behind it and help bring in the ‘missing millions’ at last.”

Professor Toby James, an expert on voter registration, added: “Research shows that younger people are much less likely to appear on the electoral register and that this problem has become more severe since the introduction of individual electoral registration.

“Drawing the electoral boundaries around the electoral registers, as the current bill proposes, will therefore systematically give younger people less democratic representation.

“There are, however, simple practical steps that the Joseph Rowntree Report on Automatic Voter Registration set out, to address this such as enrolling citizens when they are issued National Insurance Numbers – or at the very least, encouraging them to do so.”

Read the ERS’ briefing ahead of the vote here.

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