Committee calls for electoral modernisation – including automatic registration on 18th birthday

Written by John Johnston on 9 July 2020 in News
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Peers also urge the introduction of prompts when accessing government services and an online tool for checking registration

Credit: PA

A parliamentary committee has called for urgent modernisation of the UK’s electoral-registration system, including automatic addition to the register on citizens’ 18th birthday, prompts to register to vote when accessing government digital services, and an online tool to easily check registration status.

A new report from the Lords Electoral Registration Committee warned "millions" of voters could be left disenfranchised.

According to the group, the UK's "cumbersome" registration system has failed to keep pace with changes in voters demographics, resulting in a significant under-representation of young people, frequent home movers, care home residents and those from BAME backgrounds.

The report, which examined the impact of 2013 legislation aimed at improving the electoral system, also warned there was an over-reliance on administrators who face "immense pressures" during election periods to ensure people are registered.


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Among their recommendations, the committee said ministers should implement "automatic registration" for young-people on their 18th birthday, as well as introducing new systems for "assisted registration" which would provide people with prompts to sign up to vote when accessing other public services.

Committee chair Lord Shutt of Greetland said the measures were vital to protecting the "integrity" of elections.

"Millions of voters may still be missing from electoral registers. The Act has helped to make registers more accurate but they remain significantly incomplete," he said. "Incomplete registers can only be damaging to the integrity of elections. Urgent steps must be taken to address this. The success of our elections is often down to the sheer hard work and dedication of administrators working round the clock. These administrators are not helped by the burdens placed on them by the current system, particularly the extremely tight deadlines they work to."

He added: "To help improve registers and ease the administrative burden, Government must take further steps to modernise the system. This includes automatic registration for young people joining registers as they come of age, assisted registration to prompt eligible voters to register when accessing other public services, and an online registration checking tool. The annual canvass is expensive, cumbersome and confusing. A lot of time is spent confirming the details of people whose situation has not changed."

Ailsa Irvine, director of electoral administration and guidance at the Electoral Commission, welcomed the call for reform.

She said: "Voter registration systems have not kept pace with the times. Whilst positive reforms to the annual canvass in Great Britain are currently underway, further, more fundamental changes to the framework could make registration easier for everyone – particularly groups who are less likely to be registered, such as young people and private renters."

She added: "We are pleased the committee supports the case for reform. There is a real opportunity to take action now and help improve the completeness and accuracy of electoral registers."

A spokesperson for the Cabinet Office, said: "A straightforward and secure voter registration system is a fundamental part of any democracy. Introducing Individual Electoral Registration in 2014 made it easier than ever before to register to vote and the 2019 general election was contested on the largest ever electoral register. Registering yourself to vote also dramatically reduces the risk of voter fraud.”

 

About the author

John Johnston is a political reporter for PublicTechnology sister publication PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared. He tweets as @johnjohnstonmi.

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