In a report published today, the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee welcomes the Government's decision to move to a system of individual electoral registration in 2014–15, to replace the existing outdated system of registration by household.
The committee raises a number of concerns about the Government's implementation plan, however, in particular:
- that levels of registration will fall, at least at first, by an uncertain amount, and that if this fall is uneven across the country, it will have a marked and potentially partisan effect on the parliamentary constituency boundaries to be used at the 2020 general election.
The committee concludes that this risk is enhanced by the Government's proposal to make voter registration voluntary, and to make it easy to opt out of the registration process.
The committee recommends that it should initially be an offence to fail to complete a voter registration form, as is currently the case in Northern Ireland. The committee also welcomes the Government's acknowledgment that registration remains a public duty, and its undertaking to ensure that this is reflected in the final legislation.
- that the electoral registers used for the 2015 general election, and initial invitations to register individually, will contain significant inaccuracies.
This is because of the Government's decision not to remove voters registered in 2013 from the rolls until after that general election (a decision the committee welcomes), combined with the decision not to hold a full household canvass in 2014 (a decision the committee asks the Government to reconsider).
- that vulnerable electors may be disenfranchised by the Government’s decision to require postal and proxy voters to register individually before the 2015 general election.
The committee also recommends the abolition of the edited register.
The report also comments on other electoral reforms the Government is proposing, including to the timetable for parliamentary elections, and largely endorses them.
The Chair of the committee, Graham Allen MP, said:
"Getting individuals to take responsibility for their own votes is the right thing to do, but it needs to be done in the right way. There are real risks in moving to a new system, not least that people with the right to vote could fall off the electoral roll in large numbers. This would be damaging to democracy, to public engagement in politics, and to the fairness of the basis on which MPs are elected.
The transition to individual registration will only be a true success if the electoral rolls become not only more accurate but also more complete. The amendments which we propose—especially on the 2014 canvass and on not opting out—are essential if IER is to command public confidence and not to be seen as unfair and politically partisan."