Individual Electoral Registration and Electoral Administration - Political and Constitutional Reform Committee Contents

2  Principle

7. The principle of moving to individual electoral registration is widely accepted. It was first recommended by the Electoral Commission in 2003[5] and subsequently by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in 2007, which noted at the time that

    "There appears to be a consensus among political parties, the Electoral Commission and most electoral administrators that individual registration, as opposed to registration completed and signed by one named person in the household, is likely to be a more accurate means of registering eligible voters. Individuals would then be responsible for their own registration in order to vote. There are however differences of view as to the pace at which such an important change should be made".[6]

8. The three largest political parties all continue to support the principle of individual registration.[7] Their approach to its implementation is very different, however. In 2005, the Labour Government brought forward an Electoral Administration Bill, which provided for pilots to require personal identifiers (such as date of birth and national insurance number [NINO]) at registration before a general introduction of this measure. Although enacted, these provisions have not been brought into force. The current Coalition Government's draft clauses would replace them on the statute book and would make individual registration compulsory in 2014 for those who wish to vote by postal or proxy, and for all following the general election in May 2015.

9. The Electoral Commission has summarised the benefits and risks of moving to a system of individual registration. The benefits are simple:

to improve the security of the system, making it less vulnerable to fraud;

to recognise people's personal responsibility for this important stake in our democracy; and

for a system that people recognise as up-to-date, not rooted in Victorian ideas about households and 'heads of household'.[8]

10. The Commission also identifies potential areas of concern that the new system must tackle:

any new system must deal especially with the issue of home-movers, which means dealing with duplicate entries;

not losing the strengths of the current system in terms of completeness—the current annual canvass approach produces high levels of completeness;

designing a transition process that ensures that eligible people who are currently on the register, but only because someone else has entered them, do not drop off the register simply because they are not used to, or have problems with, the registration process; and

reassuring people that the personal data they will be asked to provide, will be kept safe.[9]

11. The Government's proposals need to be judged against the extent to which they achieve these benefits and minimise these concerns.

12. In Northern Ireland the introduction of IER led to improved accuracy of the register, as duplicate and ineligible entries were identified and received, although the completeness of the register did also drop. A new system of registration in Great Britain will only be successful if it improves both the accuracy and completeness of the electoral registers, with the ultimate aim of re-building public trust in our electoral processes.

5   Electoral Commission, The electoral registration process: Report and recommendations, May 2003, Chapter 2 Back

6   Committee on Standards in Public Life, Eleventh Report, Review of the Electoral Commission, Cm 7006, para 6.4 Back

7   Ev w25 Back

8   Ev 100 Back

9   Ev 100 Back

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Prepared 4 November 2011