Electoral roll news

News items from the UK connected with the Electoral roll

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‘Outrageous’ Tory changes to electoral roll will face challenge in Lords

Lib Dems accuse government of ‘gerrymandering’ over expedited move to new register, which contains 1.9 million fewer names than the old one
 
 The government’s plan to change to the new electoral roll, which will form the basis of a constituency boundary review, will face a rejection motion in the Lords. 
Patrick Wintour Political editor, The Guardian
Wednesday 22 July 2015 16.49 BST Last modified on Wednesday 22 July 2015 19.25 BST


The government’s attempt to rush through changes to the electoral registration system, which could result in up to 1.9 million people disappearing from the roll, is to be challenged in the House of Lords.
 
In a rerun of the battles in the last parliament to redraw the constituency boundaries, the Liberal Democrats are opposing the changes, calling them “an outrageous gerrymander”.
 
The voters likely to fall off the register are mainly in inner-city areas and less likely to vote Conservative.
 
The Electoral Commission had advised the government in June to spend another year transferring voters on the old household-based register to the new individual register, but ministers want to short-circuit the process so that it is completed by December 2015, and not the end of 2016. The commission says there are 1.9 million names on the household register that are not on the individual register.
 
The cleaned-up register will form the basis of the parliamentary constituency boundary review to be conducted before the 2020 election that will both reduce the number of seats and see a redrawing of the boundaries in favour of the Conservatives.
 
The government argues that if the 1.9 million names are kept on the register for a further year, there would be “an unacceptable risk to the accuracy of the register”.
 
The new boundary review is due to start in 2016, and will lead to fewer urban constituencies.
 
The Liberal Democrats are set to challenge the changes alongside Labour in the Lords and Commons. The Liberal Democrats said up to 1.9 million people could also be deprived of their vote in the 2016 elections to the Scottish parliament, the Welsh assembly, the London mayoralty and assembly, and to local authorities. Young people, ethnic minorities, private-sector tenants, and those from more socially deprived communities are most likely to be affected.
 
The change is due to come into effect on 6 August, but can be rejected by the Commons or the Lords at any time before 2 November. Lib Dem MP Tom Brake has tabled a rejection motion in the House of Commons, and Lib Dem constitutional affairs spokesman Lord Tyler has tabled a motion in the Lords, where the government is likely to be defeated.
 
The Liberal Democrat peer Lord Rennard, who led the successful opposition to the boundary review in the last parliament, said: “The government is ignoring the independent Electoral Commission in pursuit of its own narrow party advantage. Removing nearly two million voters from the register in this way will make the electoral registers significantly less complete and the process for conducting next year’s elections less democratic.
 
“The proposed change will in effect deny many people the right to vote. There are already major problems with electoral registers missing about 8 million people who should be included. Ministers are now making the problem worse.”
 
Tyler, who tabled the motion in the Lords, added: “Ministers should be thoroughly ashamed of this sneaky initiative, just before the long summer recess, trying to avoid proper parliamentary scrutiny.
 
“We anticipate support from all the other opposition parties in the Commons, and also crossbenchers in the Lords, precisely because such changes to electoral law should avoid partisan advantage and seek consensus.
 
“If the Tories are defeated on such an order – which is unusual but not unprecedented – they will only have themselves to blame for what looks all too like an outrageous gerrymander.”

The gaping hole in the voter registration changes

The online voting registration for the 2015 general elections in the United Kingdom
 ‘Numbers registered in May 2015, at 247,705, represented a fall of 47% from the last household canvass, when 470,398 young people were registered,’ writes Hilary Kitchin.


In bringing forward by a year the final implementation of electoral registers based entirely on individual registration, the minister for constitutional reform (Letters, 31 July) is overriding strong advice from the Electoral Commission. His claiming 96% accuracy hides the stark fact that the percentage of unconfirmed entries varies by local authority and range: from just over 0% to 23%, all in areas that will have at least one significant election in May 2016.
 
The absence of vital information about unconfirmed voters, the commission wrote, “means that ministers would need to ask parliament to approve an important decision with no reliable information about how many redundant entries would be removed from the December 2015 registers and how many otherwise eligible electors would need to re-register individually in order to be able to participate in the 2016 polls”.
 
Among those missing from the register are those aged 16 and 17, who will shortly become eligible to vote. Numbers registered in May 2015, at 247,705, represented a fall of 47% from the last household canvass, when 470,398 young people were registered. The position may improve but won’t be clear until spring 2016.
 
The government intends that the registers published in December 2015 will be used as the basis for calculating the size of constituencies as part of the next UK parliamentary boundary review. London boroughs – including Brent, Hackney, Haringey, Lambeth, and Redbridge, with their high count of Labour voters – are among authorities that have 10% or over of their total registers unconfirmed. Hackney has the highest level, at 23%. No point to be made about gerrymandering there, then, minister.
Hilary Kitchin
London
 
• John Penrose writes that individual electoral registration (IER) will not disenfranchise people. Not in law, it won’t, but published academic research shows how IER will lead to a further decline in registration levels. The logic is simple: the more bureaucratic the registration process is, the less people will engage in the democratic process.
 
The same research has also shown that IER has many side-effects. It can divert election officials’ time away from other activities, affect morale and cause staff to leave. This is borne out by a recent report by electoral administrators, which the minister cites in support of his argument.
 
Despite the introduction of online electoral registration last year, which was a huge step forward, the numbers on the electoral roll are at crisis levels, with a dramatic decline in the post-war era. Millions are not on the roll.
 
There is a need for an urgent electoral modernisation programme to address this. Again, academic studies are instructive. Mechanisms that could work include: a “motor voter” law that registers citizens when they access other government services, better funding for electoral officials, civil society actors to promote voter engagement, later registration deadlines, and easier voting procedures.


Dr Toby James
University of East Anglia