The White Paper and draft Bill on Individual Electoral Registration (IER) were published for pre-legislative scrutiny on 30 June 2011. These proposals speed up the introduction of individual electoral registration in Great Britain compared with the provisions put in place by the previous Government in 2009. There seems to be broad agreement on the principle of individual electoral registration (Chapter 2), but very differing views on how it should be implemented.
The White Paper has learnt lessons from the introduction of IER in Northern Ireland in 2002, such as the proposal to have a 'carry-forward', meaning that voters who are on the 2013 electoral register, but who are not registered under IER in 2014, will still be able to vote in 2015, unless they wish to vote by post or proxy (Chapter 5).
We make suggestions for improving the transition process, with a particular focus on the completeness of the electoral register (Chapter 3). The introduction of IER carries the risk that people will drop off the register and become disenfranchised, particularly in urban areas; if unchecked, this could have important consequences for future constituency boundary reviews.
The White Paper makes it clear that the Government sees registering to vote as a personal choice for the individual, and that it will not be an offence for an individual to fail to complete an electoral registration form (Chapter 3). In Northern Ireland, in contrast, this is an offence. Electoral administrators have told us that the threat of sanctions often nudges people, who might not have otherwise completed a registration form, to do so. Registering to vote has always been seen as a civic duty, and should continue to be so. The undertaking from the Deputy Prime Minister to make sure that 'opting out' of the registration process is not too easy is a step in the right direction.
The transition process (Chapter 4) will be labour-intensive for electoral registration officers, as they seek to engage many millions of eligible electors with the new system of individual registration. Proper funding of this process (Chapter 6) will be particularly important.
The Government's other draft electoral administration provisions (Chapter 8) would legislate on a number of issues that electoral administrators have long called for, such as;
the extension of the timetable for Parliamentary elections from 17 to 25 working days, and;
allowing a UK Parliamentary election candidate jointly nominated by two or more registered parties to use on the ballot paper an emblem registered by one of the nominating parties.
These are largely sensible proposals, although others that have also been called for are missing, and we ask why.