The Government response on Individual Electoral Registration
Today the Government has issued its response to the pre-legislative scrutiny and public consultation on Individual Electoral Registration (IER).
IER is due to be rolled out in 2014, the year before the next General Election. It will mean shifting from household registration where a ‘head of the household’ registers everyone at their address, to individuals taking responsibility for registering themselves. It is widely accepted as the right move for guarding against fraud but there remain concerns about the way the change is going to be implemented.
Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society says:
We’re pleased to see that the Government has moved on some of our key concerns: Retaining the 2014 canvass is fundamental, without it the move to IER would disenfranchise millions of us who might simply move house in the eight months before the change is introduced.
‘It is concerning that the Government remains confused about its position on the ‘opt-out’. During the consultation process Registration Officers were clear that this bizarre new addition would seriously undermine the importance of registering to vote and would harm the completeness of the register. The Government needs to be clear about this. There is no excuse for the opt-out sneaking into the new legislation.
This is a huge change and needs to be done right. The year before a General Election is no time for shortcuts and it is vital that the legislation is not rushed through without proper consideration of the impact it will have on ordinary voters.’
For more information or to speak to a spokesperson call Sophie Langridge in the media office on 07757 743354.
Notes to Editors
The proposed changes to the draft legislation on Individual Electoral Registration and what they mean.
The Government has moved on their initial plans to introduce IER with a write-out to everyone on the register as it stands at December 2013 (plus any rolling updates).
Government response: “We have listened to concerns that there is no full household canvass in 2014.To ensure that a more accurate and up to date register is used as the basis of the new register we are also planning to delay the annual canvass in 2013 to the early part of 2014.”
This is the right move as it is vital that the electoral roll is as up to date as possible before the introduction of IER and the next General Election. While we welcome this development we will be watching carefully to ensure that Electoral Registration Officers are given adequate resources to complete an accurate 2014 canvass to repair the damage done by scrapping the canvass in 2013.
The Government’s proposals take a significant step from requiring registration to making it a matter of choice. The Government report says it ‘unequivocally believes’ voting is a civic duty but an ‘opt out’ is at odds with the principle of civic duty.
Government response: “As we made clear last year, we are minded to amend this provision and intend either to retain the ‘opt out’ but require a person wishing to do so to complete a separate application, or to entirely remove this option altogether.”
Under the current draft legislation, registering will not be compulsory, it will be a personal choice as to whether to respond to Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) request to complete an application form. Citizens will be entitled to ‘opt out’ of registration by indicating that they do not wish to receive further information or invitations to register. If they choose to ‘opt out’ EROs will not contact them again during that canvass period.
It is important to ensure that the incentives not to register do not outweigh the incentives to do so. Research on public attitudes to voting has highlighted a number of reasons people fail to register including a reluctance to give out personal details, fear of filling in forms or simply not wishing to be bothered with it. Creating an opt out is likely to see a number of people not registering for reasons not associated with voting - either because of the process itself or for more specific deterrents such as avoiding jury service, council tax, credit agencies.
Removing disincentives to opt out coupled with the relative ease at which it will be possible to opt out, is highly likely to have serious repercussions for registration levels.
The Government plans to use data matching to fill in some of the holes in the register. Data matching means checking the data on the register up against other national databases that the government has (i.e. Drivers licence, NHS records etc.). This data matching will be particularly targeted on home movers, who are one of the groups most likely to fall off the register.
Concerns were raised in the consultation about the quality of some of this data and problems which may arise as a result. There were also concerns raised by Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) about the appropriateness of some of this data.
There are currently data matching pilots being conducted twenty two different areas of the country. A report by the Electoral Commission is due on data matching in March but the Government appears to have pre-judged the results, claiming that “we are confident that the pilots suggest that this can add real value and intend to carry out further pilots to refine the approach further, and to develop an efficient and effective system ready in time to support the implementation of IER.”
Some early results of the data matching pilots show that it is more difficult in areas which already have low levels of registration and where there are the largest fears of a fall in the numbers of people on the electoral register (Tower Hamlets and Newham). This suggests that the government’s plans would not actually help to target the groups already missing from the registers.
In October 2011 the Electoral Reform Society organised a cross-party roundtable which included local and national officials working on registration, and key organisations representing groups facing exclusion from the register. The report Missing Millions is available to download.
For further information see http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/voter-registration