Government Response to the Interim Conclusions
and Recommendations of the PCRC's Fourth Report of 2014-15 about
[Paragraphs summarising the Committee's conclusions
and recommendations are highlighted in bold. References to paragraphs
are to the numbered list of conclusions and recommendations at
pages 82 to 94 of the Committee's report.]
All party talks on party funding are resumed urgently
with a view to reaching agreed settlement before the general election.
Following the publication of the 13th
report from the Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) in
November 2011, the Deputy Prime Minister convened discussions
between the three main political parties to discuss possible reforms
to party funding. Representatives met seven times during 2012
and 2013, with discussions based on the principles identified
by the CSPL. Unfortunately, as on previous occasions, there has
been no agreement between the three parties on beginning party
Although it is now clear that reforms cannot go forward
in this Parliament, the Government hopes that the principles explored
can inform further discussions on this topic and that the parties
will then return to this issue after the General Election.
The legal requirement to register to vote should
be clarified and this basic civil duty should be enforced. (Paragraph
The Government believes that compelling someone to
register to vote is unlikely to make them more engaged and therefore
more likely to vote.
The Government has introduced a variety of measures
to help engage the UK electorate but increasing democratic engagement
is not solely the responsibility of Government. Politicians, political
parties, electoral administrators, civil society groups, schools,
parents and people themselves all have a role to play in promoting
understanding and engagement in registering to vote.
Every effort is made by Electoral Registration
Officers (ERO) to reach all registered voters who have not been
automatically transferred to the new register, to give them the
opportunity to register under the new system. The Electoral Commission
must make it a priority to ensure that this happens and we are
asking the Commission to give a progress report to us in the New
Year. (Paragraph 14)
In order to safeguard levels of voter participation,
the Government commit in its response to look favourably on requests
for additional funding to be made available to EROs to support
their work in maintaining and enhancing the levels of electoral
registration, and to other bodies and organisations that have
a proven track record of increasing voter registration in the
most economical and effective way possible. Also that the Electoral
Commission look into service level agreements with agencies, bodies
and organisations such as Bite the Ballot and Operation Black
Vote who have a proven track record in increasing electoral registration
and can do it a fraction of the cost of the Electoral Commission
or Government Departments. (Paragraph 17)
The Government produce a plan well before May
2015 for targeting those groups that are least likely to be registered
to vote. (Paragraph 26)
The Government has taken measures to both safeguard
and increase the completeness and accuracy of the electoral register
as part of the transition to Individual Electoral Registration
(IER). Through the use of data matching 87% of existing electors
have been automatically transferred to the new registers under
IER. Electors who did not transfer automatically have each been
invited to register, sent reminders and canvassed in person to
encourage them to apply under IER. The introduction of on-line
registration makes registering to vote quicker and simpler than
ever before and is proving to be a success. Since the introduction
of IER, over 4 million people have submitted applications to register
to vote with the majority of these being made on-line. Over 90%
of users are satisfied with the online service.
Alongside the move to IER, the Government has taken
steps to increase levels of voter registration. In the 2013/14
financial year we invested £4.2million, shared across every
ERO in Great Britain and five national organisations to support
the costs of their activities in encouraging eligible electors
to register to vote.
We have also invested in understanding the problem
of under registration to help inform our approach. For example,
in 2012 we published qualitative research conducted with under-registered
groups, to identify barriers and risks to registration for these
groups under the new system. The results showed that many aspects
of IER were welcomed by participants, including for example online
registration and increased personal ownership of registration
and that when it is explained, an application under IER was more
straightforward than participants anticipated.
The Electoral Commission carried out research in
2014 that shows that registration levels have stabilised
However, there is no room for complacency. The Government
remains committed to ensuring every eligible voter is registered
and can exercise their democratic right at the ballot box. We
have therefore recently announced in a Written Ministerial Statement
a further investment of £9.8 million to support the costs
of activities aimed at increasing the completeness and accuracy
of the register. In line with the Committee's recommendation,
this funding package consists of a number of components that will
support efforts to improve registration among different types
of electors and under registered groups.
A core component of this investment is the sharing
of £6.8 million between every ERO in Great Britain. The Government
recognises that EROs are best placed to determine the type of
activity which will best drive up registration rates in their
local area. As a result, they are free to use this funding for
canvassing activity early in 2015 as the Committee has suggested.
This could include either targeted canvass activity (in areas
or among groups with disproportionately low registration rates),
or a further write out to all households to advise who is registered,
in order to prompt those not currently registered to do so and
to help identify those who have recently moved within or into
the local area. Allocations for EROs are based on levels of under
registration and reflect the scale of the challenge in each area
by ensuring areas with larger proportions of under registered
groups, such as students, receive a greater share of the funding.
In addition, a share of the £9.8 million investment has been
made available for national organisations to promote voter registration
among under registered groups such as students.
The Electoral Commission will be responding separately
to the Committee's request for a progress report on efforts to
capture unconfirmed electors and around the scope for service
level agreements with external organisations.
With 5.5 million voters not yet confirmed on to
the new electoral register, unless the electoral registers are
substantially more complete than at present by May 2015, the Government
should not bring forward the end date for the transitional arrangements
for Individual Electoral Registration. (Paragraph 15)
We are continuing to deliver the transition timetable
debated in Parliament and approved in the Electoral Registration
and Administration Act 2013. It is for the next Government and
Parliament to make the decision, following the advice and assessment
of the Electoral Commission, as to whether the transition should
conclude at the end of 2015 or at some stage during 2016. We anticipate
that the completeness and accuracy of the registers will be at
the centre of these deliberations.
A requirement to present photographic ID at polling
stations cannot be justified at present, and we recommend against
its adoption. (Paragraph 19)
It is vital that the public has confidence in the
running of elections and that the integrity of the electoral system
is safeguarded. However we have not seen any evidence to suggest
that personation at polling stations is significant problem that
needs to be addressed by the introduction of an ID requirement
at polling stations. Figures published by the Association of Chief
Police Officers/Electoral Commission show that there were a total
of 58 alleged cases during the four years from 2010 to 2013. At
least 26 of these related to one of the 16 local authority areas
identified by the Electoral Commission as being at higher risk
of alleged cases of electoral fraud.
Personation at polling stations is difficult to organise
on a large scale, as large numbers of people would need to be
mobilised to commit the offence in order to significantly affect
the result of a poll. Small numbers of individuals who commit
personation a number of times are more likely to be detected.
The offence is therefore more likely to be attempted at closely
contested polls where a small number of votes might determine
the outcome. Returning Officers and the police are able to identify
polls where this is a risk factor, and take preventative action.
We are not convinced that introducing a photographic
ID requirement on a national basis is a necessary or proportionate
response, and believe it could potentially disenfranchise significant
numbers of legitimate voters. The Government therefore welcomes
the Committee's recommendation.
We recommend that within three months of the publication
of this Report, the Government consult with the Electoral Commission,
EROs and disability groups and publish clear and stretching proposals
setting out how registration and voting will be made more accessible
to people with disabilities. We also recommend that political
parties work with disability groups to make manifestos and other
election material accessible in formats which people with disabilities
find easier to use. (Paragraph 23)
The Government is committed to making the electoral
system fully accessible for all electors. We held meetings in
July and November in 2014 with the Royal Mencap Society (Mencap)
and the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) to identify
options for making registration and voting easier for people with
disabilities. Representatives from Mencap and RNIB discussed these
options at a meeting of the Electoral Policy Coordination Group
on 9 December. The Group, whose membership also includes the Electoral
Commission and senior Returning Officers (RO) and EROs, meets
regularly to discuss electoral policy and to plan and prepare
Mencap, who represents people with a learning disability,
was one of five national organisations to share funding awarded
by the Government in 2013/14 to test new approaches to improve
registration levels and democratic engagement amongst under registered
groups. As part of this initiative Mencap has developed an easy-to-read
guide to registering to vote and voting, to be used in a one-to-one
setting for with people with learning disabilities, their families
and carers. This engagement resource is freely available on Gov.uk.
Mencap is also adapting Rock Enrol!,
the Government's freely available resource for engaging young
people in the democratic process, specifically for young people
with a learning disability.
At the meeting on 9 December, it was agreed that
Mencap's easy-to-read guide on voting and registering to vote
would be published on the Electoral Commission's website, as a
public engagement resource for electoral administration staff,
and that the Electoral Commission would remind polling station
staff of their legal duty towards disabled voters. Further work
to bring forward proposals to improve the accessibility of the
electoral system for disabled people remains ongoing.
Officials continue to have a good ongoing relationship
with Mencap and RNIB and are discussing with them how best they
can work together in the future.
We expect to see a comprehensive plan from the
Government in response to our Report, setting out how it plans
to increase registration rates for overseas voters. We recommend
that, at a minimum, this include using UK embassies to promote
registration to British citizens living abroad, working with the
BBC to put out information through BBC World and the World Service,
and making changes to voting to make it more convenient to overseas
voters. (Paragraph 24)
The Government remains committed to maximise registration
amongst all groups, including overseas electors and is already
working to achieve this ahead of the 2015 General Election.
Some of the measures introduced, such as IER, on-line
registration and the extension the electoral timetable for UK
Parliamentary elections from 17 to 25 days making it easier for
postal voters, to return their postal votes, are particularly
helpful for overseas voters. Also a digital channel has been introduced
that enables special category electors, such as overseas voters,
to submit an electronic application. The requirement for overseas
electors to have a witness for their application to register has
also been removed, which will make it a more straightforward process.
Up to £2.5 million funding will be available
to fund wider activity, including working with national organisations.
This funding will support activity to encourage specific under
registered groups such as students, overseas electors and armed
service personnel to register to vote.
EROs already have defined steps to take to remind
overseas electors to renew their declaration under existing regulations
and this is supplemented by the requirement to send an invitation
to register, and a reminder, if necessary, to those electors who
do not renew their registration and who the ERO believes may still
be resident at their address.
The Electoral Commission, provides information about
how to register and vote overseas on its website and, working
with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, is targeting UK citizens
living overseas as part of its online advertising campaign ahead
of the General Election, particularly in countries with high populations
of UK citizens, such as Australia, Canada, France, Spain and the
USA. That campaign includes advertising on Facebook and other
websites commonly used by UK citizens overseas, on expatriate
radio stations worldwide, and working closely with its partners
and the media to ensure the registration message is spread across
expatriate networks. The Electoral Commission has increased its
target to register overseas voters from 25,000 to 100,000 and
will be launching their General Election voter registration campaign
on 2 February.
The Electoral Commission should run a specific
campaign aimed at Commonwealth citizens and citizens of other
EU member states resident in the UK, focussing on eligibility
to participate in elections, and how to register to vote. The
Electoral Commission should also bring forward proposals for simplifying
the process for EU citizens living in the UK to register to vote
at European Parliament elections promptly so that the necessary
changes can be made before the next European Parliament elections
in 2019. (Paragraph 25)
Commonwealth citizens resident in the UK have the
same voting rights and opportunities to register as UK nationals.
They are encouraged to register to vote just like any other British
citizen who is eligible to vote. The Government is not aware of
an issue specifically with Commonwealth citizens resident in the
UK on voter registration.
The Electoral Commission has confirmed to us that
it plans to carry out work on the issue EU citizens resident in
the UK being able to vote in European Parliament (EP) and local
elections. Cabinet Office officials have also met representatives
of New Europeans
to discuss issues that arose with the participation of EU citizens
at the EP election in May 2014. Cabinet Office plans further discussions
with the Electoral Commission and other electoral stakeholders
on the registration process for EU citizens to consider ways to
simplify the process for EU citizens living in the UK to register
to vote at EP and local elections.
In future targets for registration should be included
in performance standards for EROs. The Electoral Commission will
need to consider how such output targets should be set, and the
steps which would be most effective in securing attainment of
such targets should they not initially be achieved. Best practice,
as identified by EROs and the Commission, should also be incorporated
in the performance standards. We believe that the outcomes on
the number and percentage of those registered to vote should also
be a key performance indicator for the Electoral Commission. (Paragraph
As the Electoral Commission is an independent body
established by Parliament, it is overseen by the Speaker's Committee.
Consequently, key performance measures for the Electoral Commission
are a matter for that Committee.
The Government to set out proposals for annually
recognising notable successes and best practice in electoral registration.
MPs should be more closely engaged with the monitoring of electoral
registration in their constituencies and that the Electoral Commission
should provide them with specific data on the outcomes of the
number and percentage rates of registration in each ward within
their constituency. The Government commit to finding parliamentary
time for an annual debate in Parliament to allow registration
issues to be discussed. This could be held on National Voter Registration
Day or on a "Democracy Day". (Paragraph 28)
This is currently the subject of discussions between
the Cabinet Office and the Electoral Commission. The Electoral
Commission has now launched its project on identifying, recognising
and sharing 'what works' in relation to elections, and we provided
initial information to Returning Officers and electoral administrators
on the scheme in one of its regular Electoral Administration Bulletins.
The scheme currently focuses on elections and has
the objective of identifying examples of good practice that can
be used in this year's General Election, the Electoral Commission
intends to evaluate its success after this initial round, with
a view to potentially extending it to cover electoral registration
over the 2015 canvass.
The Government should take enforcement action
against EROs which repeatedly fail to fulfil their statutory duties
in a way which has an adverse effect on the quality of voter registration
in their area and set out the circumstances in which it is prepared
to seek a prosecution of any electoral official considered to
be in breach of an official duty under the provisions of the Representation
of the People Act 1983. (Paragraph 29)
There is no mechanism within the current legal framework
for registration for the Government to take enforcement action
against EROs that do not fulfil their statutory duties beyond
the power to issue a Secretary of State direction under section
52 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. The Government
has made clear to all EROs that Parliament expects them to fulfil
their statutory duties and has emphasised that Ministers are prepared
to issue a direction (subject to a positive recommendation from
the Electoral Commission), to ensure EROs comply with their obligations.
Any authorities identified during the course of the implementation
of IER as failing to implement their legal obligations will be
dealt with promptly and unambiguously.
In addition, prosecutions in England and Wales are
a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which is an
independent prosecuting authority and Ministers have no influence
over its decision making.
The Government to issue an Order under section
5 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) designating EROs
and ROs public authorities for the purpose of that Act. (Paragraph
The Government agrees that there is a case for bringing
EROs and ROs under the FOIA. There is insufficient time remaining
in this Parliament to complete the required steps (including formal
consultation with EROs and ROs), so this will necessarily be an
issue for the next Government.
It is worth noting that the Association of Electoral
Administrators advises its members to behave as if they were already
subject to the FOIA, and the Government understands that many,
but not all, do so.
The Government should set out how it plans to
support Bite the Ballot's National Voter Registration Day 2015.
The Electoral Commission, electoral officials, and all public
sector organisations should put specific plans in place to take
advantage of National Voter Registration Day (NVRD) to make a
significant difference to the number of people who are registered
to vote ahead of the 2015 general election, and future elections.
The Government welcomes all initiatives including
Bite the Ballot's National Voter Registration Day, British Youth
Council's Make Your Mark and Vinspired's Swing the Vote, that
promote democratic engagement and voter registration.
The Ministry of Defence's information campaign for
service personnel and their families and the Electoral Commission's
Overseas Voter Registration Day will fall on 5 February, the same
day as NVRD.
The Government is considering how best to support
activities which fall on 5 February and beyond, to encourage all
groups in society to register to vote. This will include using
social media channels and using our networks to promote voter
The Government to make specific proposals about
how people could be prompted to register to vote when they access
other public services, particularly those services associated
with a change in address, such as registering to pay council tax.
The Electoral Commission and EROs should also seek to work with
private companies who interact with the public so they can, as
part of their corporate responsibilities, prompt those people
who are currently not registered to vote to register. (Paragraph
The Government has introduced IER and on-line registration
on schedule. We also ensured all the necessary systems were in
place to enable data matching to automatically transfer the majority
of existing electors onto the registers under the new system.
As IER embeds, we now have the opportunity to explore
how we can best maximise its benefits, particularly on-line registration,
in order to help boost the completeness and accuracy of the register
even further. As part of this work, the Cabinet Office is actively
exploring options for collaboration between online electoral registration
and other public sector digital transactional services.
In the short term, Cabinet Office is currently identifying
the most appropriate official websites to promote voter registration
by signposting the link to the on-line registration channel. It
will be subject to agreement with the service providers, but the
aim is to have these links in place ahead of the General Election.
We understand that the Electoral Commission will
be responding separately on the question about the scope for working
with EROs and private companies to target electors and encourage
them to register.
The Secretary of State for Education to promote
registration for 16 to 18 year olds at school and in college.
EROs also should now be working with schools and colleges to register
students, and we recommend that the Electoral Commission explicitly
include this action in its performance standards for EROs. (Paragraph
The Department for Education to ensure that schools'
citizenship education courses specifically include discussion
of the political and governmental structures of the UK and the
electoral systems that operate in the UK, and also the practicalities
of registering to vote and actually participating at an election.
Given the low registration rates amongst young people,
there is a strong case for making greater efforts to register
16 to 18 year olds at school and in collegeparticularly
as registration now takes place on an individual basis and can
be done, easily, on-line, from school. The Cabinet Office is working
with the Department for Education on promoting this in schools.
This could be integrated with broader citizenship education, and
include a discussion about how to register to vote when moving
to university or away from home. At the same time, we are looking
at the scope to scale up pilots in Sheffield and Manchester that
registered students at the point of enrolment.
Effective citizenship education is an important part
of the process of becoming an engaged voter, and should continue
to be a part of the national curriculum. Schools' citizenship
education courses specifically include discussion of the political
and governmental structures of the UK and the electoral systems
that operate in the UK, and also the practicalities of registering
to vote and actually participating at an election.
The Government to set out proposals for reducing
the number of days between the cut-off date for registration and
the election day, with a view to implementing them as soon as
possible. The Government set out the steps to achieving, by 2020,
the objective of allowing eligible electors to register and then
vote at the Town Hall or equivalent up to and on the day of an
election. (Paragraph 38)
There are no plans to introduce such a change as
there is no evidence that large numbers of people are turned away
from polling stations because they are not registered.
It has been the policy of successive governments
to have a period between the end of electoral registration and
election day to give administrators the time to perform the necessary
checks on identity and eligibility to vote. To change this so
that anyone could turn up at the local Town Hall to register and
cast a vote would be a significant departure. The Government has
no plans to change the current period which provides a crucial
safeguard to preserve the integrity of our democracy.
To work effectively and securely, it is likely that
election day registration would require all polling stations in
a constituency to be electronically linked and the register updated
in real time to prevent anyone registering and voting in one polling
station and moving quickly to another to do the same. This would
be certain to present considerable technical challenges and carry
Currently, the deadline for registering to vote at
elections and referendums is the 12th working day prior
to the date of the poll. The deadline for making an application
for registration prior to an election was altered by the Electoral
Administration Act 2006; it was previously, in practical terms,
6 to 7 weeks before the date of the poll.
The final version of the register, to be used for
the poll, is published 5 working days prior to the poll. The ERO
may determine an application to register to vote after 5 clear
working days has passed from the date it is received, provided
it meets the statutory requirements, no objections to it have
been received andfollowing the move to IERthe identity
of the applicant has been verified.
The existing timescales allow time for the ERO to
verify the identity of an applicant, for example, using Department
for Work and Pension records (National Insurance numbers and date
of birth), and for any objections to be made to the application,
prior to it being determined by the ERO. Reducing the number of
days between the deadline for registration and the date of the
poll would therefore impact on processes in place for dealing
with applications that are designed to ensure that only those
who are eligible to vote are able to do so.
This could be addressed by moving the date of publication
of the final register closer to polling day, although this would
impact on the administration of the poll, for example, the timing
of the issue of postal votes and the supply of the final register
to polling stations.
Providing for registrations on polling day itself
would further raise issues about how the identities of applicants
would be verified. If it is thought that such applications should
be subject to the same level of scrutiny and checks as on applications
made further in advance of polling day, then this would require
EROs to take steps after the close of poll to confirm the eligibility
of the person to register to vote.
Pending completion of these steps, votes cast by
such persons would need to be deemed as 'provisional'. This would
have a significant impact on the timing of the declaration of
results for polls, as either the declaration would need to be
delayed, or a 'provisional' result given, pending confirmation
that those voters who registered on polling day were entitled
to vote at the poll. This would cause delay to the final outcome
of the poll being known and the successful representative taking
up office and possibly the formation of a new government after
a General Election, which may be thought to be unacceptable. This
situation could be avoided by having different verification processes
for applicants on polling day to other applicants, for example,
they could be required to produce specified identity documents,
though this may also not be deemed to be appropriate or acceptable.
These proposals would represent a significant change
to the UK's electoral system and would raise important issues
around the integrity of electoral processes. The Government considers
that IER is a major modernisation of the electoral system and
should be allowed to settle in before any further significant
changes are considered. These are matters that may merit further
consideration in light of the experience of IER at the General
The Government to take immediate action to abolish
the open electoral register before new registers are published.
The electoral register was completely open from at
least 1832 until 2002. Any individual or organisation could ask
for a copy and there were no restrictions about its use. In 2002
the law was changed to provide for two versionsthe electoral
register a full list of constituents, which is available only
to certain specified persons and bodies for electoral, law enforcement
and credit checking purposes, and the open register from which
people could opt out of annually.
The Government considered the future of the open
register and the opt out in 2012 and decided to retain both. It
is likely that if the open register was abolished there would
be strong pressure for wider access to the electoral registermoving
back towards the pre 2002 situationand this would be a
change that could discourage people from registering to vote.
However, the Government has recently introduced changes
that include enabling electors' preferences on the open register,
including opting out, to be carried forward indefinitelyunless
or until they want to make a new choice or complete a new registration
application (having moved home for example), rather than having
to be renewed every year by ticking a box in the annual canvass
The Government to clearly set out its view on
moving to a system of automatic registration. (Paragraph 40)
The Government believes registering to vote is a
civic duty and that individuals should take responsibility for
their own vote. That is one of the fundamental underpinnings of
the new system of IER. This belief is incompatible with a system
of automatic registration.
Given the scale of the transformation to the electoral
registration system introduced by IER, the Government used national
and local data matching to successfully passport 87% of those
previously registered to vote onto the new IER registers without
having to take any action. This was intended to minimise the impact
of the transition to the new system on electors and administratorsallowing
registration officers to focus their resources on registering
those who did not match and those not previously registered to
The Government agrees that registering to vote should
be as easy and straightforward as possible. That is why we have
introduced online registration and are looking at data sharing
The Government explore further proposals for weekend
voting, extending voting and designating election days as public
holidays. (Paragraph 41)
Polling stations for UK elections are open to voters
from 7am to 10pm. This provides most electors with the opportunity
to vote. For electors who cannot get to a polling station, postal
voting provides an alternative means for them to cast their vote.
There is no robust evidence that moving election
day to the weekend would have a significant impact on levels of
participation. In addition, faith groups would also have concerns
about a move to weekend voting and it may also increase costs.
An impact assessment undertaken in 2010 by the Ministry of Justice
(under the previous Government) concluded that moving from Thursday
to weekend voting would increase the costs of a UK Parliamentary
election by around £58 million.
There is also no strong evidence that designating
election day as a public holiday would have any significant impact
on participation rates. It is not clear that those who choose
not to vote would do so if the day of election was a public holiday.
Furthermore, such a change may also have consequences beyond the
election itself, for example, for business and the national economy.
The Government should provide an assessment of
the challenges and likely impact on turnout, and run pilots in
the next Parliament with a view to all electors having the choice
of voting on-line in the 2020 election. (Paragraph 42)
Various forms of e-voting were trialled in England
between 2000 and 2007 and this resulted in very small changes
to overall turnout.
The major issue raised by those opposed to the introduction
of e-voting is that it is not sufficiently transparent or secure.
The selection of elected representatives for Parliament is regarded
as requiring the highest possible level of test and, at present,
there are concerns that e-Voting, by any means, is not seen by
many to be sufficiently rigorous and could potentially be vulnerable
to attack or fraud.
In addition, the cost of introducing such a system
would be substantial. Public support for such measures is still
far from universal and traditional means of voting (such as polling
stations and postal voting) remain popular with the electorate.
Therefore, any means of e-voting would have to be introduced as
an additional voting channel. Even if proven to be sufficiently
robust, such a move would require careful consideration given
the current economic climate.
Further trials of all-postal voting in elections
should be held. (Paragraph 44)
It is recognised that where all-postal voting has
previously been trialled at elections in the UK it has generally
enhanced voter turnout. However, since the Electoral Administration
Act 2006, postal voters have been required to provide "personal
identifiers" (date of birth and signature) when applying
for a postal vote, and to provide these personal identifiers when
voting by post at subsequent elections. Returning Officers carry
out checks on the personal identifiers provided at elections by
postal voters to ensure they match with those originally provided
and if they do not match the postal vote is deemed invalid.
The use of personal identifiers for postal vote has
had a positive impact in strengthening the integrity of postal
voting. The Government would not wish to change the current postal
voting requirements in the event of an all-postal voting election,
and therefore the date of birth and signature of all electors
would therefore be needed for the purposes of such a poll.
Importantly, although under IER persons provide personal
identifiers for the purpose of establishing whether they are the
person named in the application, those identifiers do not include
the person's signature. It would therefore be necessary to ask
electors at an all-postal poll who were not existing postal voters
to provide their date of birth and signature. This would be a
significant logistical exercise and electors who did not provide
the necessary identifiers, for whatever reason, would not be able
to take part in the poll and would effectively be disenfranchised.
Postal voting on demand has been in place since 2001
and its availability is widely known and publicised. It has proved
popular with many voters and it enables people to participate
in elections who would otherwise be unable to do so. However,
it is not certain that there would be widespread public support
for all-posting as voting at polling stations remains popular
with many voters.
The Government is therefore not convinced that there
is a strong case for further trials of all-postal voting in elections.
The Government, working with the Electoral Commission
and EROs, bring forward a package of reforms to electoral arrangements
to increase accessibility and turnout, and establish a series
of pilots early in the next Parliament to test the various proposals
that we have considered, with a view to making permanent changes
to electoral arrangements by 2020. (Paragraph 45)
Making elections convenient for voters is an important
consideration in helping people engage with the democratic process.
It needs to be achieved in a way that safeguards the security
and accuracy of the electoral system, and avoids the creation
of any new obstacles to voting.
Proposals to move the polling day to a weekend, or
to turn it into a public holiday, could make voting easier for
some, and so encourage those people to vote. However it could
also affect the turnout of people who use the time for other activities
or possibly, in the case of creating a public holiday, incentivise
people to use the time other than for voting. Allowing voting
to take place over several days may have little effect on turnout
unless wider issues of voter engagement are addressed.
While we have for the first time allowed people to
register to vote online, extending that facility to voting presents
significant challenges with regard to making the system secure
from attack and fraud. E-voting may be something to consider in
the future, but is not currently a priority for the Government.
We endorse the Committee's positive view of the effect
of postal voting on voter turnout and we note its concern about
the loss of entitlement to a postal vote of some people under
the transitional arrangements for IER. Electors whose details
could not be confirmed during the transition to IER, or who did
not register before the publication of the new register, lost
their absent vote if they had one (though they could vote at a
polling station if they had been carried forward from the old
register). They have been notified and encouraged to register
individually so their details can be verified and an absent vote
provided. The measure ensures the security of the new voter registration
system by preventing abuse of the absent voting process.
The electorate's continued support for retaining
different methods of voting (such as in person voting at a polling
station) suggests that all postal voting could discourage some
groups from participating in elections who currently do so, even
if it increases turnout overall. It would be important to ensure
these groups remain democratically engaged.
Allowing people to cast their vote at any polling
station could have advantages for some groups, such as disabled
voters, by allowing them to choose the location that is the most
suited to their access requirements. We would need to consider
the practical challenges of such a scheme, and the likely take
up, in order to decide whether it would be worth introducing.
There has been more than an academic interest in
such changes in the in the past and many of the potential processes
suggested, such as all-postal voting, voting over a number of
days and online voting, have been tested in range of pilots. We
will consider the Committee's proposals further in order to determine
which of them could have significant positive effects on accessibility
and turnout, and could be piloted in the next Parliament.
The Government to discuss with the Electoral Commission
and include in this response details of arrangements that are
currently in place to provide information to the public about
elections and registering to vote, and bring forward proposals
for the effective use of new technology to better inform the public
and increase awareness of elections. The Government and Electoral
Commission should also examine the changes which can be made to
provide more and better information to voters, and should actively
support the work of outside organisations working to similar goals.
There are a wide range of sources of information
about elections and registering to vote. The award-winning GOV.UK
website includes information and the online registration service.
The information includes links to pages that cover subjects such
as how to register to vote if an elector lives overseas, registering
for a postal vote and how to contact your local ERO.
Political parties, referendum campaigns and election
candidates all play an important role as does the media, in providing
information to the public about elections and registering to vote.
The Electoral Commission has a statutory duty to
promote public awareness of electoral and democratic systems,
and is therefore primarily responsible for informing citizens
of their electoral rights. The Electoral Commission will advise
people of their eligibility to vote, how to register to vote and
how to cast their vote at elections. Local authorities will also
take steps to publicise elections being held in their area.
Currently, Returning Officers are responsible for
publicising the results of elections for which they are responsible.
Local authorities will also publicise the results of polls held
in their area. The media will also provide information about election
results. There is the risk that providing for a central source
of information could duplicate information that is already publicly
available, and it may only be possible to provide such information
over a longer period of time without adding value to the information
already produced. Putting in place a central source of information
would involve logistical and cost issues, and the Government would
need to be certain that there is a robust case and justification
for putting in place such arrangements.
The Government to report to the House of Commons
how a system of compulsory voting could operate in the UK, including
an assessment of international experience, and an assessment of
whether voting should only be compulsory for certain types of
election. (Paragraph 50)
The Government believes that, whilst it is true that
in some countries voting is not just a fundamental political right
but also a duty of the citizen, voting is a civic responsibility
and that the importance of political participation should be reinforced
without the need for a sanction for non-compliance. There are,
therefore, no plans to introduce a system of compulsory voting
for elections in the UK.
While there are currently thirty-two countries with
systems for compulsory voting, only nineteen of these actively
enforce it (including Australia, Argentina and Turkey).
In the event that voting in certain elections
is made compulsory, an option to vote "none of the above"
or to "abstain" should be one of the options set out.
These options could also be included if voting were not compulsory.
The inclusion of a 'positive abstention' box on the
ballot paper would allow electors to register their dissatisfaction
with a candidate, party or politics more broadly and a variation
of a 'none of the above' option appears on ballot papers in Columbia,
India, Spain, Ukraine, and the state of Nevada in the USA. However,
the Government believes that, when participating in a ballot,
the position should be that the elector makes a positive choice
of a representative rather than a negative one. It does not agree,
therefore, that the introduction of such a provision would be
a positive step. Rather, the Government believes it should be
for candidates and the political parties to actively engage the
electorate so they can make a positive choice of representation.
Parliament leads a national discussion on extending
the franchise to include 16 and 17 year old and that a motion
on the issue is brought forward in 2015 to allow the House of
Commons a free vote on its view, with a view to the introduction
of legislation if appropriate. (Paragraph 53)
This is an issue that needs to be resolved through
the political process. There is no consensus within the Coalition
Government and consequently the Government has no plans to introduce
a change in this Parliament. This is no doubt an issue that will
be debated extensively before and after the General Election.
1 1 This press release
has further details on the allocation of this £4.2 million
funding: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/funding-for-new-ways-to-encourage-voter-registration Back
2 http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/169889/Completeness-and-accuracy-of-the-2014-electoral-registers-in-Great-Britain.pdf Back
3 www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2015-01-09/HCWS180/ Back
4 www.gov.uk/government/publications/voting-and-registering-to-vote-an-easy-read-guide Back
5 www.gov.uk/government/publications/rock-enrol-engaging-young-people-in-democracy Back
6 New Europeans is a non profit
organisation created to promote and support the UK's EU membership.