Electoral Reform Society: 6 million missing voters “just the tip of the iceberg”

The Electoral Reform Society has welcomed the publication of the Electoral Commission’s latest report into voter registration (Britain’s Electoral Registers 2011)

The report comes a matter of weeks before the government is set to introduce Individual Electoral Registration which could see millions more disappear from the electoral register. The Society has welcomed the Commission’s recommendations that urgent changes must be made to upcoming legislation to prevent a further drop-off.

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society said:

“The Electoral Commission’s new report is sobering reading for any democrat. 6 million citizens are missing from our electoral roll. Sadly that’s just the tip of the iceberg, because under the government’s plans for voter registration that number is set to sky rocket.

“The problem isn't the principle of individual electoral registration – it's the reckless way it's being introduced. It will mean that 3 million people could be disenfranchised simply for moving home. [1]

“Officials on the ground need the tools and the opportunity to reach these voters. They are set to lose both. The government’s proposal to let voters ‘opt-out’ from registration is unhelpful. Their plan to drop the annual canvass in the run up to the next general election is nothing short of irresponsible.

“These missing millions can be avoided. Both government and opposition now have a duty to make voter registration work.

[1] The Commission’s Report argues that by July 2014 as many as 2–3 million people across Great Britain could be no longer resident at the address recorded on the December 2013 registers – and would therefore not receive an IER form in July 2014.

To protect against a further drop in completeness after the move to IER, the Electoral Reform Society asks that the government…

Drop the Opt-Out: By enabling individuals to ‘opt out’, the UK Government’s existing plans risk a reduction in the number of individuals registered to vote. The Electoral Commission estimates that a new register could be as low as 65% complete. Certain parts of the UK Government’s plans are compulsory, whilst other parts are voluntary: this contradiction risks confusion amongst voters and potentially, Electoral Registration Officers

Transferring over the threat of penalty: Many Electoral Registration Officers report that the threat of £1,000 penalty acts as a drive for ensuring people register to vote. Again, the UK Government’s plans to drop the threat of penalty will further suppress registration levels

Re-instates 2014 Annual Canvas: Without a full household canvass in 2014, the 2015 register (the first register operating under the new system) risks being significantly incomplete. This will further disenfranchise voters. The year before a General Election is no time for shortcuts. Reinstating the canvass will guard against the 1% per/month drop in completeness in the register outlined by the Commission
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