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Government remains deaf to warnings on voter registration

10th May 2012
10 May 2012
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ier
individual voter registration
voting
individual electoral registration
electoral roll
missing millions
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Government remains deaf to warnings on voter registration

The Electoral Reform Society has responded to the publication of the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill, a fundamental change to the way we register to vote that experts warn could lead to millions of voters ‘falling off’ the register.

The Society - which led calls for change to the government’s deeply flawed White Paper in their Missing Millions campaign - has welcomed the changes that have been made, but warns that without a meaningful safety net the government still risks alienating millions of voters right before the 2015 general election. Older people, young people and those who move house are likely to be the groups worst affected.

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

We welcome the fact that the government has finally listened to reason on many of our concerns but the devil is in the detail. The bill might work on paper, but making it work in practice is another matter. Older people, younger people and any of us planning on moving home are still in danger of slipping through the cracks.

‘The government continue to ignore the warnings from registration officers and charities who are all saying the same thing: that crossing their fingers and hoping for the best is not good enough. We need a safety net to ensure that millions of us do not lose our say at the next election.’

‘There is still a lot of work to be done. This massive change comes in right before a General Election and is no time for shortcuts. If millions of British voters don’t have a say, British democracy will suffer.’

The new system will mean that everyone has to register themselves with proof of their identity, recognising the need for individuals to have ownership over their vote and helping to guard against fraud. The bill is the right move but the Electoral Reform Society has been a leading voice in calling for it to be implemented in the right way.

Katie continued:

We’re delighted that the government has responded to our call for a full annual canvass in 2014 as without it anyone who moved home or turned 18 between December 2013 and May 2015 would not even have been invited to register under Individual Electoral Registration.

‘It’s also extremely encouraging that the government have listened to reason on the opt-out which would have allowed people to simply tick a box to ‘opt out’ of registering. This was absurd: It’s not a mailing list, its British democracy and nobody should be ‘opting out’.

ENDS

For more information on the Electoral Reform Society’s calls for changes to the legislation on Individual Electoral Registration see our Missing Millions campaign

Notes to Editors

  1. The Electoral Commission has warned the change could bring registration rates down from over 80% to as little as 65%. See Electoral Commission response to Government white paper.
  2. Electoral Reform Society response to the White Paper
  3. Civil society and EROs raise issues with plans for IER in Missing Millions report
  4. The Electoral Reform Society is an independent campaigning organisation working to champion the rights of voters and improve UK democracy.
  5. To find out more visit www.electoral-reform.org.uk

England let down by elections as Scotland leads the way

9th May 2012
9 May 2012
Tags: 
stv
single transferable vote
fptp
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- A tale of 6 cities and 2 very different elections

Initial analysis of last Thursday’s elections is showing a widening gulf between local democracy in England and Scotland. 
 
In its initial analysis of election results, focusing on six English and Scottish cities, the Electoral Reform Society has shown English voters are drawing the ‘short straw’ in their elections, with less choice and less chance of affecting the result.
 
Scotland abandoned First Past the Post for local government elections in 2007 and adopted the Single Transferrable Vote form of Proportional Representation. This has brought competitive elections into all the local ‘One Party States’ that once blighted Scottish politics.
 
Willie Sullivan, Director of the Electoral Reform Society Scotland said:
 
In last Thursday’s election voters across Britain went to the polls. But for voters in Scotland and England this was a tale of two Elections - and England drew the short straw.

"Scottish voters got more choice at the polls and more chance of deciding who speaks in their name in their town halls. And while most Scots got a councillor they backed for their trouble, most of the English just threw their votes away.

"Glasgow has transformed itself from rotten borough to a multi-party democracy. Scotland now has a local democracy we can all be proud of, and getting rid of First Past the Post made that possible. With the Single Transferable Vote people have got a real say on who runs their local authorities. Voters in England should settle for nothing less.”  

 
A tale of 6 Cities
 
City
Edinburgh
Glasgow
Dundee
Portsmouth
B.ham
Manchester
Voter Choice

 

 

 

 

 

 
Candidates/Ward

7.47

10.67

7.75

3.86

5.23

4.91
Parties/Ward

6.41

8.38

5.63

3.79

5.20

4.75
Representation

 

 

 

 

 

 
Voters getting who they voted for (%)

72.66

75.93

79.78

46.17

54.98

65.22
Women’s representation (%)

25.86

30.38

24.14

14.30

42.50

34.4

Voting system

STV

STV

STV

FPTP

FPTP

FPTP
Estimated National Turnout

Scotland 42%

England 32%
 

Local Democracy Scotland can be proud of

1st May 2012
1 May 2012
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Local Democracy Scotland can be proud of   As the UK heads to the polls, the Electoral Reform Society Scotland has welcomed the fact that there is not a single uncontested seat in Scottish local authorities.   

Wales alone boasts over 95 uncontested seats – with 140, 000 voters denied a say.  

In the last set of Scottish Local elections run under First Past the Post in 2003 Scotland had 61 uncontested seats. Following the shift to the Single Transferable Vote in 2007 that figure hit zero.  

Willie Sullivan, Director of Electoral Reform Society Scotland said: 

In hundreds of wards across the UK voters will not get the chance to have their say this Thursday. These elections were a done deal without a single vote being cast.  But once again Scotland has left the plague of uncontested seats behind.   

“We know that the First Past the Post system used in England and Wales and here in Scotland for Westminster elections gives us seats so safe that it’s not even worth anyone else standing.  If you’re lucky you might get a paper candidate faxed in from central office.  

“Now Scotland has a local democracy we can all be proud of. With the Single Transferable Vote people will get a real say on who runs their local authorities this week. But while we live in a fairly elected multi-party democracy we should remember our fellow voters in England and Wales, and encourage them to settle for nothing less.”  

For comment or analysis during the 2012 Scottish local election contact Willie Sullivan on 07940 523842 willie.sullivan@electoral-reform.org.uk

British voters abandon British democracy

25th April 2012
25 Apr 2012
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political engagement
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British voters abandon British democracy

The 2012 Audit of Political Engagement shows downward trend in voter engagament.

In a week where politicians have been refuting the idea that the public should be allowed to elect our representatives in the House of Lords (despite the fact that a recent You Gov poll found 69% of the public support the reform) a new study showing a serious decline in people’s engagement with politics is perhaps unsurprising.

The 2012 Audit of Political Engagement found that less than half (48%) of people would be certain to vote in the event of an immediate general election, down a massive ten points from 2011. To make matters worse 16% of the public now say they are ‘absolutely certain not to vote’.

The study reports that ‘participants felt they had no means to give voice to their views, individually and, more importantly, collectively’ and that ‘the public simply do not think that if they, or people like themselves, were to get involved in politics they could have any impact on the way the country is run’.

The findings suggest that not only are people less inclined to vote but that they no longer believe they can change things by getting involved.

The report authors conclude ‘A year on, this indifference now seems to have hardened into something more serious: the trends in interest and knowledge are downward, dramatically so in some instances, suggesting a public that is turning away from national politics.’

This is a damning indictment of British politics and a stark warning to our politicians that things cannot continue as they are.

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

‘British democracy is at a crisis point. Voters are increasingly fed up with watching politicians looking out for their own interests while ignoring ours.

‘The most recent in a long line of party funding scandals made it clear once again that it is big business and rich donors - not voters - who’s opinions count and while watching politicians try and wiggle out of allowing us to elect our representatives in the House of Lords you could be forgiven for thinking that British voters are an encumbrance rather than a central part of British democracy.

‘Many politicians have no problem with the status quo but voters clearly feel differently. We simply cannot afford to shrug our shoulders and watch while the very legitimacy of British democracy is under threat. Democracy is hard work and it is never job done. The writing’s on the wall: It’s time for change.‘

ENDS

For more information or to arrange an interview contact the media office on 020 7202 8601

Download 2012 Audit of Political Engagement report

Notes to Editors

1. The Electoral Reform Society is an independent campaigning organisation working to champion the rights of voters and improve UK democracy.
2. To find out more visit http://www.electoral-reform.org.uk

The Government response on Individual Electoral Registration

9th February 2012
9 Feb 2012
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individual voter registration
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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.’

Ends

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 Annual Canvass

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 Opt-Out

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.
 

  • Data Matching

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.
 

Further Background

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

Westminster wakes up to the Missing Millions: Voter Registration

4th November 2011
4 Nov 2011
Tags: 
ier
individual voter registration
voting
individual electoral registration
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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

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

16th September 2011
16 Sep 2011
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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: