Automate voter registration to help ease councils’ budgets, says Electoral Commission

The UK needs to develop automatic or direct voter enrolment processes and offer a system that lets people check whether they are registered online, the Electoral Commission has said.

Electoral Commission wants to see voters registered automatically – Photo credit: PA Images

In its final report on the transition to individual electoral registration, rather than registration as a household, which was completed in December 2015, the commission said that the government must consider new ways of modernising voter registration.

It noted that, although there had been significant progress in making sure voters were properly registered through the new system – with local government and parliamentary registers being 91% accurate – the current system of electoral registration is not sustainable in the long-term.

As such, it called for further improvements to registration, as well as saying that the government must take action quickly, because the UK “cannot wait for more than a decade for the next phase of change to be delivered”.

It also emphasised that such changes would be even more important due to reductions to local authority budgets.

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The new system proposed by the commission is one that uses trusted public data to remain accurate without relying on individuals, and that makes it easier for voters to make sure their information is accurate, especially before elections and referenda.

“We now want to see positive action to develop new ways of compiling and maintaining electoral registers in the UK, in particular to enable Electoral Registration Officers to make better use of available, trusted data to keep registers up to date,” the report stated.

“We believe it is time to move away from a system which relies on electors taking steps to register themselves, and instead develop automatic or direct enrolment processes which have the potential to deliver more accurate and complete electoral registers more efficiently than current resource intensive canvass processes.”

Government should start a programme of feasibility studies of an automatic system, looking at the administrative, legal and infrastructure implications of managing new systems.

Automatic systems might include using local government data to register people who move house – the report says that the majority of those moving do so within one local authority area – or by registering 16 and 17-year-olds as they are allocated national insurance numbers and be retained until they are eligible to vote.

The system should also be able to identify and remove duplicate entries, the report said.

The commission said it was carrying out a strategic review of its future work and focus, which should include further thoughts on delivering a modern electoral register, and that this would be published by the end of 2016.

Writing in the report’s foreword, Electoral Commission chairwoman Jenny Watson said: “There is appetite for a modern electoral register among EROs, civil society groups, and among electors themselves – and I hope that the government will embrace it.”


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