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

4  Canvass arrangements for 2014

51. The Government has proposed arrangements for the transition from the current system of registration to the new one, rather than going for a 'big bang'. This should help to moderate the impact of the change, but the detail of these transitional arrangements has given rise to some concern. Most of this concern has focussed on the Government's proposal not to hold a household canvass under the current system in 2014.[50]

52. The White Paper explains that the Government proposes not to hold a full household canvass in 2014 because "as well as being more expensive ... a canvass followed by invitation risks confusing people who may not respond to an IER invitation having already responded to a canvass, believing that they have done enough to register".[51] The Minister told us that the transition arrangements, including no annual household canvass in 2014, were necessary as a full household canvass followed by an invitation for electors to register individually could be "confusing"[52]

    The very clear feedback we had from electoral administrators who would have to do that work was that simply would not be a very good thing to do. We would end up risking confusing people and end up with lots of people who had sent out the household form, not responding to the individual form, because they thought they had done what they needed to do.[53]

He told us that the Government's proposal for a 'modified' canvass was preferable, in which a written invitation to register could be combined with doorstep canvassing.

53. The proposal to not hold a household canvass in 2014 has raised significant concern among our witnesses, both that large numbers of people will be missed in the initial rounds of invitations to individuals to register under the new system because they have moved, and that the registers in use at the 2015 general election will be significantly inaccurate. For the Electoral Commission, having an annual household canvass in 2014 is "a key priority".[54] Jenny Watson, the Chair of the Electoral Commission, explained why

    We know there are around 5 million changes to the register in any 12-month period and the majority of those will be due to people moving house. If we think about the period between the 2013 register and the 2014 register, when individual electoral registration and transition starts, we know that that will already have decayed in accuracy by around 5 to 6 percentage points. That means around 2 million to 3 million people will probably have moved in that time. What that does not do is address the variability of that figure throughout the country.

54. Her colleague Andrew Scallan added

    It is crucial that when you embark on this exercise of individual registration ... you start off with a baseline that is as accurate as possible. Having the canvass in 2014, at whatever time precisely in 2014, is demonstrably the best way of establishing the best baseline information.

55. Peter Wardle explained that on the Government's own figures

    the June 2014 register, the one that will be used as the basis for the 2014 write-out, is likely to contain inaccuracies. Approximately 20% of people eligible to re-register under IER may not be invited in that invitation process. That is a very large number of electors to set against the potential savings of not carrying out an annual canvass, and that is what we are concerned about.

56. High numbers of home movers are a particular feature in urban areas. Julian Bassham from Southwark told us that without an annual canvass in 2014, "we are missing 70% to 90% of movers not joining the electoral roll. They wait until the annual canvass ... coupled with a high population churn ... around 30% to 40%—we could well be looking at a significant under-representation on the register of the eligible population of Southwark".[55]

57. We would be greatly troubled if, as the Electoral Commission warns, "as many as 2-3 million people across Great Britain could be no longer resident at the address recorded on the December 2013 electoral registers, and would therefore not receive an IER form in July 2014".[56]

58. People who are on the electoral register following a response to the household canvass in 2013 will, on the Government's proposals, remain on the register until after the general election in May 2015. This is a sensible way of ensuring that people have plenty of time to register individually and do not find themselves accidentally deprived of their right to vote in 2015. Coupled with the absence of a household canvass in 2014, however, these carry-forward proposals are likely to mean that millions of electors will be registered in the wrong place for the 2015 General Election.

59. We recommend that the Government take steps to ensure that the electoral registers used for identifying individuals in the initial round of invitations to register under IER, as well as those used for the 2015 general election, are as accurate and complete as possible. We have heard serious concerns that the Government's current proposals will miss an unacceptably large number of potential electors, and calls from many of our witnesses for a full household canvass in 2014 to address this problem. We believe, given the unique circumstances of the change to IER, that the Government should reconsider its decision not to hold a full household canvass in 2014.

60. If the Government is determined not to hold a full household canvass in 2014, there may be proportionate alternatives that would achieve the Government's goal of saving money, without the risk of disenfranchising large numbers of people. One alternative to holding a full annual household canvass in 2014 would be to identify those parts of the country with a significant level of annual turnover on the electoral register, and to provide for something like the usual annual household canvass to take place in 2014 just in those areas. For this to happen, some parts of the country will need more funding than others. We recommend that the Government confirm that this is its intention.

50   Cm 8108, paras 61-62 Back

51   Cm 8108, para 67 Back

52   Q 264 Back

53   Q 264 Back

54   Q 189 Back

55   Q 82 Back

56   Ev 102 Back

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Prepared 4 November 2011