Why Voter Registration Matters
Until 2009, one person in each household completed the voter registration for every resident eligible to vote. Then, justified by a small number of well-documented cases of electoral fraud, individual voter registration became law in 2009. Individual voter registration is not in itself a bad thing but the system introduced in the UK requires voters whose existing details cannot be matched with a single database of national insurance numbers to provide additional forms of information.
For example, a newly married woman who chooses to change her name is now required to provide two forms of identification before being accepted back on the register. The group most affected is students. Previously, universities could provide a single list of eligible voters to the local authority. Now every student has to register individually – not necessarily a priority during freshers’ week. The result is levels of registration plummeting from 100% to less than 10% in most university residences.
Overall, according to attempts to data match in 2013, more than 7 million voters who were previously on the register were not matched and would need to provide additional evidence of residence. If they failed to provide the extra information they would be removed from the electoral register. This would massively and disproportionately disenfranchise the mobile, the young and those in private rented accommodation, mainly those living in urban areas.
Despite this, and despite the advice of the Electoral Commission, the government recently announced plans to bring forward, by a year to December 2015, the end of transition arrangements that would have enabled local authorities to get more people on the register. The government also announced that they are pressing ahead with the redrawing of constituency boundaries, based on the electoral register at the end of 2015, as well as reducing the number of seats from 650 to 600. This will inevitably result in a big fall in the number of Labour-held seats.
The Electoral Commission has said that there is a danger that as many as 7 million eligible voters are not registered under the new system. The more of these people that make the register by the end of 2015, the less the redrawing of the boundaries will damage Labour. Perhaps this should be the focus of campaigning in local constituencies and branches whilst the impact of the leadership election is felt? This would provide an ideal opportunity for the many new members to get involved straight away, help raise Labour’s profile locally and give a sense of what local people feel about politics.
Gideon Seymour, 18 Sep 2015