Government ditches plans for online voter registration check

Despite recommendations from election regulators, the government has decided that such a tool would be overly costly and complex


Credit: PA

The government appears to have binned the idea of creating an online tool allowing people to check if they are registered to vote, despite recommendations made by electoral regulators.

Following the EU-membership referendum in 2016, the Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA) and the Electoral Commission published reports that made a number of recommendations regarding the government’s election processes. A key strand of these reports was examining the fitness for purpose of the government’s online voter-registration provisions.

The recommendations came in light of a deadline-day outage suffered by the Register to Vote website that forced the government to pass emergency legislation allowing the registration period for the Brexit vote to be extended by two days.

The government was given two recommendations in regard to online voter registration, the first of which was to test the capacity of the Register to Vote site to ensure it can cope with as much traffic as it needs to, and then to publish a review of this testing by November 2016 – six months before local elections took place in many parts of the UK.

The testing took place and the review was published on time, and the new Cabinet Office report claims that the fruits of these efforts resulted in “significant improvements” to the site. Such advances were showcased in the run up to June’s general election, when the government claims the site “worked seamlessly and successfully coped with huge volumes of applications”. Between 18 April and 22 May this year, some 2.9 million people registered to vote in the general election, including a record 622,000 on the deadline day.

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The second recommendation made in light of the online-registration problems suffered by the Brexit referendum was that the government “should develop an online service to allow people to check whether they are already correctly registered to vote before they complete a new application to register”.

The Cabinet Office report acknowledges that the ease of online registration has resulted in an increase in applications from people who are already registered. 

“These duplicate applications represent an administrative burden for electoral registration officers and their staff at what is already a busy time,” the report says. “For this reason, we are committed to exploring what solutions may exist to make life easier for administrators without creating new registration barriers for the citizen.”

But the solution to this burden does not lie in the creation of an online service allowing voters to check if they are already registered, the government has concluded.

“There would be major technical, security and privacy issues around consolidating the registers to allow such a live registration check to take place,” the government says. “These issues centre around the fact that a look-up tool of this nature would require an elector to prove their identity in the course of making an application.”

It adds: “Recent exploratory work on the potential costs of a look-up tool has shown that they far exceed the costs of processing duplicate applications. There is also no obvious solution to the technical barriers to implementation. Both factors point towards needing to find an alternative solution, most likely implemented at a local level. We will continue to work with the electoral community in establishing the best way forward for reducing the administrative burden associated with duplicate applications.”


Sam Trendall

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