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Westminster wakes up to the Missing Millions: Voter Registration

4th November 2011
4 Nov 2011
Tags: 
ier
individual voter registration
voting
individual electoral registration
electoral roll
missing millions
campaign

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Westminster wakes up to the Missing Millions

The Electoral Reform Society has welcomed publication of

the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee’s report into Individual Electoral Registration (IER).

The Society, which gave evidence to the Committee in September, has predicted “catastrophic” results if legislation proceeds as planned. The Committee has backed the Society’s key recommendations.

Earlier this month the Society organised a cross-party roundtable which included local and national official’s working on registration, and key organisations representing groups facing exclusion from the register. The consensus is clear – these proposals must change.
Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society said:
 
This report is welcome reading for anyone interested in our democracy. Westminster was sleepwalking towards a catastrophic drop in voter registration. We’re pleased politicians have finally woken up to the problem. These missing millions are avoidable, and the government must now take heed.”

“The Committee is right to support maintaining the annual canvass and the threat of penalty. The government’s proposals mean councils would have no carrot, no stick and no opportunity to target hard to reach citizens. If we want a complete and accurate register, then officials need the tools to get the job done.
 

 “The government was making it possible for citizens to ‘opt out’ from democracy. Being on the register is not just about rights, it’s about responsibilities. It determines how public services are delivered, underpins the right to trial by jury of your peers, and sets how political boundaries are drawn.
 
“If the government listens we have the chance to make voter registration work.”
 
As one roundtable attendee Michael Summerville, Electoral Registration Officer for London Borough of Hackney said:
 
We have spent years building up the register. We're concerned that all that work will be undone. We could be looking at a 20-30,000 drop from a register of 165,000."
 
"I don't see how we'll have the time to prepare for IER on the back of the 2014 Elections. We're already losing resources." 

 
Missing Millions: Roundtable on Individual Electoral Registration was held on Tuesday 18th October in the Houses of Parliament. A full report is available for download here…
 
Key Points on IER:
 
The report is a response to The Individual Electoral Registration White Paper, published on 30th June, detailing the process for replacing traditional household with individual electoral registration from 2014.
 
The government proposes providing an ‘opt-out’ from registration, and a removal of the threat of legal penalty for those failing to register. It is also planning to drop the full household Annual Canvass in 2014.
 
  • Currently there are an estimated 3.5 million unregistered voters in England & Wales – 10% of eligible citizens
 
  • As many as 10 million voters could fall off the register under the government’s plans to introduce Individual Electoral Registration - a decline to 35- 40% of eligible citizens according to Electoral Commission estimates.
 
  • This is likely to have a disproportionate impact on already under registered groups – Young people, people in social or rented accommodation and certain black and ethnic minority communities could easily fall through the net.
 
  • The current proposals will have a number of unintended consequences.
 
    • The electoral register is used for drawing boundaries and assisting Local Authorities with the planning and provision of public services.
    • It forms the basis for drawing constituency boundaries and for selecting people for jury service.
    • Political parties use it for campaigning. And it assists local authorities with the planning and provision of public services and social welfare.
 
By depleting the register the UK Government risks further excluding people who are already excluded.
 
  • The Next boundary review will be based on imprint of electoral register in December 2015. A severely depleted register will lead to even more radical in the 2016-7 boundary review.
 
The Electoral Reform Society’s top recommendations
 
The UK Government should:
 
  • Drop the proposal for individuals to ‘opt out’ from being asked to register within a specific period, and maintain the threat of legal penalty to individuals who fail to register;
  • Maintain the full household Annual Canvass in 2014;
  • Publish a plan on how the projected drop in the number of registered individuals, particularly in socially excluded groups, will be prevented.
 
Contacts:
Please contact the press office on 020 7202 8601 or Ashley Dé on 07968791684 or Sophie Langridge 07757743354

Email mediaoffice@electoral-reform.org.uk

Scotland's New Political Map – 'One Size Doesn't Fit All'

13th October 2011
13 Oct 2011
Tags: 
scotland
devolution
boundaries
boundary commission for scotland
constituency size

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Scotland’s New Political Map – 'One Size Doesn't Fit All'

The Electoral Reform Society Scotland has commented on the publication of new Scottish parliamentary boundaries. [1]

Publication comes little over a week after Conservative cabinet minister Baroness Warsi dubbed the revised constituency map of England both "mad and insane". [2]

The Society has attacked the "thankless task" handed to the Boundary Commission for Scotland. It is now calling on the government to reassess the extremely tight variance of 5% between constituency sizes – which has meant 16 Westminster seats will cross council boundaries, breaking up traditional communities such as Ayr and Dunfermline.



The Society has attacked the "thankless task" handed to the Boundary Commission for Scotland. It is now calling on the government to reassess the extremely tight variance of 5% between constituency sizes - as new rules mean 16 Westminster seats will cross council boundaries, breaking up traditional communities such Ayr and Dunfermline.

Willie Sullivan, Director of the Electoral Reform Society Scotland said:
If Scotland's new boundaries seem as "mad and insane" as England's then responsibility must lie with the British government.

"The Boundary Commission for Scotland was given a thankless task. This government's rigid 'One Size Fits All' approach was never going to fit Scotland - its cold mathematical vision of equality flies in the face of real communities, simple geography and common sense.

"The call for equal size seats dates back to the Chartists, but we doubt they would recognise the results. Instead the government risks making the constituency link a thing of the past."
 
Key Points
  • The Boundary Commission for Scotland has published detailed proposals reducing the number of Scottish MPs from 59 to 52.

  • Only two of Scotland’s seats - Na h-Eileanan an Iar (the Western Isles) and Orkney and Shetland – have been protected under the proposals.

  • The remaining 50 constituencies must now have a number of electors set at between 72,810 and 80,473 – the maximum ‘5% variance’. A wider variance would have allowed the Commission to be more sympathetic to geography and traditional communities.

  • The Boundary Commission has been forced to draw 16 proposed mainland seats that spread across two local authority boundaries. Ayr is now split between Kyle and Cumnock and North Ayrshire and Arran, Dunfermline is now split into Clackmannanshire and Dunfermline West and Dunfermline East.

  • Likely casualties include the seat of Scotland’s only Conservative MP David Mundell whose Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale constituency has been split three ways.
     
For comment contact Willie Sullivan, Director of ERS Scotland on 07940523842
 
 
[2] See Lady Warsi: some proposed boundary changes are 'mad and insane', Patrick Wintour, The Guardian, 3 October 2011
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/oct/03/baroness-warsi-boundary-changes-mad

LTE - First past the post bad for democracy

28th September 2011
28 Sep 2011
Tags: 
fptp
first past the post
single transferable vote
stv
excessive majorities

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SIR – It was disappointing to read Peter Hain’s comments resurrecting his idea that the Assembly should be exclusively elected by the first-past-the-post system (“Hain pushes for first-past-the-post voting for Assembly”, September 27).

Writing for WalesOnline during the AV referendum campaign, Hain stated that “as a democrat I cannot wish away the fact that first-past-the-post is no longer fit for purpose”.

What the Shadow Secretary of State must surely recognise is that his latter day conversion to first-past-the-post would not only be bad for Welsh democracy, but ultimately bad for Labour.

Under Hain’s plan, Labour, which secured just over two out of every five votes in this year’s Assembly election, would be rewarded with over two-thirds of the seats: a thumping supermajority giving the party a significant amount of power, and reducing the size of the opposition parties to a rump at the very time when new law-making powers calls for better scrutiny.
Click here to find out more!

Labour members should look again at Hain’s proposals as it runs contrary to Carwyn Jones’ aspiration that Labour should be a party for the whole of Wales.

2011 saw some spectacular results for Labour – but outside of South Wales the party still has much work to do.

Without the current Regional List system, Labour would have no representation and a weakened campaigning base across huge swathes of the country; areas with parliamentary seats once held by Labour and which the party must win back if it is to topple the Tories in 2015.

STEVE BROOKS

Director, Electoral Reform Society (Wales)
Published Western Mail

The Missing Millions – government needs to think again on voter registration.

16th September 2011
16 Sep 2011
Tags: 
ier
individual voter registration
voting
individual electoral registration
electoral roll
missing millions
campaign

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The Electoral Reform Society has urged the government to think again on potentially 'catastrophic' proposals on electoral registration.

The Society warned MPs this week that plans to scrap the 2014 canvass and drop the legal duty for citizens to register could have a dire affect on registration rates. It is now asking parliamentarians to throw their support behind Chris Ruane MP’s Early Day Motion and debate the full impact of IVR.

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


We welcome the government’s plan to move on Individual Voter Registration, but we’re convinced the switch will cause a catastrophic fall in registered voters unless action is taken now. 

The government risks disenfranchising millions – including some of the most underprivileged and hardest to reach Britons who need a voice in parliament.

According to the Government’s own Impact Assessment the transition to Individual Voter Registration could mean 20% or 7 million voters will drop off the register. This is equivalent of the entire population of Greater London no longer having a say in our democracy. And it’s not good enough.

Chris Ruane has already tabled an Early Day Motion calling on the government to think again.  It deserves the full support of all democrats in the House.

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

New report from the Counting Women In campaign

3rd June 2011
3 Jun 2011
Tags: 
women's representation
research
report
gender
equality
quotas
rights
women

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A new report from the Counting Women In campaign has found that

  • Representation of women in local government remains stagnant after May elections.
  • At current rate of change we face another 150 years before women have an equal say
  • Political parties key to getting more women into town halls.

The report; Representative Democracy? Women in the 2011 Local Government Elections in England examined a third of the local authorities that held elections in May 2011 and found:
 

  1. There was a net increase across over 3,500 seats of just 20 women councillors
  2. At the present rate, it will be more than 150 years before there are equal numbers of men and women elected to English local councils
  3. There were 318 wards where all the main three party candidates were male, 14 times as many as the 22 wards where all candidates were female.
In a genuinely representative democracy women would not be regarded as an added extra
Nan Slaone, Report Author

Nan Sloane, report author and Director of the Centre for Women and Democracy, said:
 

Only 31 per cent of councillors are women, and this isn’t improving. If the annual increase in women councillors stays as it is – just 20 across the sample of 3,500 seats we looked at – it will be many generations before women have an equal voice in local decision-making. This is shocking, and goes against all the rhetoric that we hear so often about the need for more women in public life.

Since over 90 per cent of councillors belong to one of the big three parties, their candidate recruitment processes are key. But we also think that it’s astonishing that nobody has responsibility for the diversity of democracy nationally, and we shall be taking steps to ask government, the Electoral Commission and elections officers to do this, both in terms of providing support for the identification and training of candidates through a Democracy Diversity Fund, and by monitoring who is standing for election in the first place.

In a genuinely representative democracy women would not be regarded as an added extra. They’re 51 per cent of the population, they’re more likely to be both the users and the providers - as employees - of local services, and they pay equal taxes. It’s high time they were equally represented.'

ENDS

Notes to editors:

The Electoral Reform Society, the Fawcett Society, the Hansard Society and the Centre for Women and Democracy have joined together to form the Counting Women In campaign to address the lack of women in politics. We believe the under-representation of women in Westminster, the devolved assemblies, and town halls around the UK represents a democratic deficit that undermines the legitimacy of decisions made in these chambers. Together, we will be fighting to ensure women have an equal presence and voice within our democratic system.

(1) In the 100 authorities surveyed, details of which can be found on page 23 of the report

(2) If, as is reasonable to assume, this sample is taken as representative of the overall trend.

(3) More details on page 3 of the report.

Democrats need to show resolve on Lords Reform

17th May 2011
17 May 2011
Tags: 
reform
democracy
second chamber
lords reform
house of lords
constitutional reform
elected lords

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Democrats need to show resolve on Lords Reform

Responding to the government’s announcement on House of Lords Reform Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society said:

We welcome this government’s first steps on reforming the Upper House, but we have been here before. Lords Reform will remain unfinished business until real determination exists to see it through.

“The last decade of debate has shown cross-party consensus is possible. Certainly all three main parties went into the last general election with manifesto pledges to reform the upper house. Now all democrats must be prepared to show their resolve.

“We can break the deadlock, but it will require concerted action from all parties to bring this Medieval Chamber up to date.”

ENDS

All together now

21st April 2011
21 Apr 2011
Tags: 
alternative vote
av
referendum
voting reform

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All together now

With the date of the referendum approaching fast the campaign is really heating up.

We know that this is our one chance to change the rules by which MPs get and stay in power and in the last couple of weeks there is all to play for.

Local campaigners and volunteers across the country have been pulling out all the stops at events, street stalls, banner drops and in phonebanks UK-wide to get people excited about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change politics for the better.

If you have some time over the bank holiday weekends why not see how you can get involved and help push for that all important Yes vote on 5 May."

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society and Chair of Yes to fairer votes

The people's campaign launches

2nd April 2011
2 Apr 2011
Tags: 
yes campaign
av
alternative vote
referendum
voting reform
campaign
eddie izzard
event

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The people’s campaign launches

At the event a packed room of people passionate about change came together to hear some of the Vice Chairs of the campaign; Kriss Akabusi, Amisha Ghadiali, Eddie Izzard, Greg Dyke, Rowan Davies and Martin Bell, talk about why they are supporting the Alternative Vote.

The Electoral Reform Society has been campaigning to update our electoral system for over a hundred years and in May we finally have the chance to scrap our broken system and replace it with a better one that will see politicians having to work harder for our votes.

With just four weeks to go, the media and wider public are waking up to the exciting reality of the referendum.

The reality is that we finally have a chance to do something about the cynicism and let-downs that have too long dictated our votes. This is our once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve the way we do politics in the UK.

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society and Chair of Yes to fairer votes

In the last few weeks before the referendum the Yes! campaign will be pulling out all the stops to get people into the polling stations and saying yes to fairer votes.

Society celebrates life of Claire Rayner

12th October 2010
12 Oct 2010
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claire rayner
society
vice president

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Society celebrates life of Claire Rayner

The Electoral Reform Society has expressed its sadness on the passing of its Vice President Claire Rayner OBE.

Claire Rayner was known as the nation’s favourite agony aunt, but she spent decades tackling the big questions of democratic and human rights. With her passing the Society has lost a valued Vice President, a tireless campaigner and a good friend.

Even as her health declined Claire would sit in her study poring over the papers, ever searching for opportunities to make the case for fair votes. Her death comes just months before the system she spent so long railing against finally faces the judgement of the British public.

The cause of political reform has lost one of its most passionate advocates. Our thoughts are with her family.

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society

Getting Reduce and Equalise Right

5th September 2010
5 Sep 2010
Tags: 
boundary review
legislation
constituencies
boundary changes

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Getting Reduce and Equalise Right

The Electoral Reform Society has called on government and opposition to ensure that controversial legislation to create equal-sized constituencies delivers on its promises.

Research commissioned by the Society from leading location specialists CACI demonstrates how equalising constituencies can be done fairly and equitably. CACI has deployed cutting-edge technology to show how a new political map could be drawn, and reveals how existing issues with details contained in the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill could be resolved.

The bill is proposing a reduction of 50 seats in the House of Commons. According to the CACI’s new political map, England would lose 32 seats, Scotland 6 seats, Wales 11 seats and Northern Ireland 1 seat. The bill proposes redrawing and equalising constituency boundaries, and reducing the disparities between the size of seats. While most former counties will lose seats, Cambridgeshire, Central Scotland and Inner London would gain MPs.

The Society has urged both government and opposition to “act responsibly” and engage with the legislation to ensure that both boundary changes and the proposals for a referendum on the Alternative Vote survive.

Keith Best from the Electoral Reform Society said:

CACI has demonstrated that there is a way of equalising constituencies fairly. The bill as it stands has practical problems and human costs – none of which are insurmountable.

The government’s stated intention is to redraw constituencies and make them equal-sized. The proposed legislation, in its present form, cannot achieve this goal. Their decision to build seats using registered voters rather than the adult population is a recipe for bloated constituencies packed with invisible citizens.

Likewise the proposed ‘5% rule’ is an impossible aspiration, but both can be fixed in a heartbeat. We hope both government and opposition are prepared to take heed.”

Speaking on the AV measures contained within the bill Keith Best added:

MPs risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater with this bill. An impasse on boundary changes will only serve to deny voters their say on the Alternative Vote. The public don’t require a lesson on what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object - not when it’s their democracy at stake.

There are non-partisan ways of engaging with this bill, but that requires MPs on both sides of the House to act like parliamentarians. If MPs can act responsibly we can have fair seats while ensuring the public aren’t denied an historic opportunity to choose fairer votes.”

Patrick Tate, Associate Director in Location Planning at CACI, said:

We firmly believe that using the right technology is the key to providing fair and equitable parliamentary constituencies. The tools and techniques we have used for drawing constituency boundaries are deployed across a range of commercial businesses and the public sector. We have been sensitive to traditional boundaries, as well as taking into account how an area can practically be serviced by an MP.

The solution we have put forward is based on the number of people over the age of 18 in 2015, rather than the number of people registered to vote. We consider this to be a fairer approach due to fluctuations in the size of the registered electorate in different areas.”

Patrick Tate added:

The bill states that the electorate of each constituency should not be more than 5% above or below the national average. However, we have found this to be mathematically impossible* as the building blocks used to create constituencies, ie wards, are, on average, larger than the stated 5%. Adhering to the 5% rule would inevitably lead to, for the first time, split wards. The current CACI solution is based on +/-10% which in some constituencies is still a challenging target.”

Mark Harper MP, the constitutional affairs minister, has described the possible splitting of wards to reach the 5% target as ‘a trade-off…so that votes are more equal in weight.’

*The population of 18+ adults, after the Orkney & Shetland and Na h-Eileanan an Iar constituencies are removed, is approximately 51 million, giving an average size in the new 598 constituencies of 85,300. 5% of this is 4,265. But, the average ward is 5,400 which is more than 1,000 greater than the stated 5%.


Talking points

West Midlands, Merseyside and Greater Manchester will lose four seats each, while inner London will gain two seats. For a full breakdown of the parliamentary counts before and after Reduce and Equalise, please see below.

The Coalition programme includes the redrawing of constituencies to make them equal-sized. The proposed legislation, in its present form, will not achieve this goal.

After equalisation, the average constituency will contain about 76,000 registered voters. It will have a total voting age population (VAP) of about 83,000. But in areas of the country where registration is low, the VAP could be as high as 110,000 – a third bigger than the average constituency.

Both the voting system and boundaries play a role in ensuring MPs have a real mandate. With turnout in some constituencies below 50%, and First Past The Post (FPTP) delivering MPs with ‘majorities’ as low as 29%, we could feasibly have an MP representing an adult population of 110,000 people, with a mandate delivered by only tenth of the population. AV requires MPs to secure a mandate delivered by 50% of voters. The strongest possible mandate is secured by Fair Boundaries and Fairer Votes.

Based on Electoral Commission estimates as many as 3 ½ million voters could be removed from the political map under the Government’s current proposals. The CACI plan ensures those citizens are counted.
Voters from all parties are likely to suffer under current plans. Average registration levels do vary significantly by party. These figures are based on demographic data, and ward-level population (18+) and registered electorate figures.

Ward
Tendency Average Registration
Conservative 92.34%
Lib Dem 91.33%
Labour 88.57%
Source: CACI

In Northern Ireland, where individual voter registration has already been rolled out, total registration is 84.5% of VAP.
It is important to note that it isn’t necessarily Labour-leaning wards which will be hit the worst, but areas which are demographically Labour-leaning – ie poorer areas with minority ethnic communities, and high levels of rented and temporary accommodation. Ipsos MORI research supports this, finding that only 69% of BME voters are registered, and only 44% of 20-24 year olds (as opposed to 97% of 60-64 year olds). http://www.ipsos-mori.com/Assets/Docs/Polls/Political%20and%20Electoral%...)
In some wards in the UK, as little as 50% of the VAP are registered. This is highly likely to be even worse after the introduction of individual voter registration.

For further information about the mapping technology contact Gemma Hinksman / Graeme Buck, Camargue on 020 7636 7366 or gbuck@camarguepr.com / ghinksman@camarguepr.com

Notes to editors

The 10% rule has been broken for islands not connected by a road bridge. These proposed constituencies are the Isle of Wight, Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Western Isles) and Orkney & Shetland.
VAP has been used for 2015 to focus on representation. Also, not all ward electorate count data is publicly available across the UK.
The analysis is focused on usually resident population projections for 2015 and students have not been double counted, as can happen in the electoral registers. The population data places most students at their place of study. The usually resident population includes residents from outside the UK, Commonwealth and the Republic of Ireland.
The analysis was undertaken using CACI's mapping and data software InSite. The software is used to automatically optimise geographical areas within set parameters. In this case CACI created constituency areas within national boundaries and where possible within former county boundaries and local authority areas. Wards were used as the building block for the creation of the constituencies. In order to give maximum flexibility in creating the areas, existing constituency boundaries were ignored.
Mark Harper MP was quoted in The Guardian on 12 August 2010

About ERS
The Electoral Reform Society is campaigning to change the way we choose our politicians. We believe that a fair voting system will improve our democracy, allow politicians to better represent you the voter and help them to tackle the serious issues facing our society. www.electoral-reform.org.uk

About CACI
Headquartered in London, CACI Ltd is a wholly owned subsidiary of CACI International Inc., a publicly listed company on the NYSE with annual revenue in excess of US $3.15bn and employing approx 13,200 people worldwide.

CACI was founded in 1975 in the UK and operates from several offices across the country. We offer an unrivalled range of marketing solutions and information systems to local and central government and to businesses from most industry sectors.

CACI describes the nation.