There are over six million people who are eligible to vote who are missing from the electoral register. According to the Electoral Commission in 2009, they are young, drawn from the ethnic minority communities, live in social housing or the private rented sector and are low paid and unemployed. In other words, their economic and social marginalisation is completed with this political marginalisation.
To put it into perspective, at the last election the Tories won 10 million votes, Labour eight million votes, and the Liberal Democrats six million. If the missing voters were registered they could change the face of British politics. On the register their interests cannot be ignored, off the register they have no voice.
The voters disappeared under Labour’s watch between 2001 and 2010, but the coalition have not put these missing millions back on the register, despite proposing massive constitutional change such as the equalisation of seats at 75,0000 per constituency and the speeded up introduction of individual electoral registration.
The Electoral Commission have an ‘overseeing and monitoring’ role for registration but have failed to improve the situation. In fact, I myself told the Electoral Commission that the figure for the unregistered was six million not three million as they thought (I was informed by Experian the credit ratings agency). After initially denying this figure, their own research confirmed it.
The most effective way to improve registration is by knocking on the doors of non-responding households. This is a legal necessity not an optional extra. Despite this, 90 of the 380 electoral registration officers have failed to do this on one or more occasion since 2008. Some have broken the law four times, but no action has been taken against them.
Another effective means is for electoral registration officers to use local government databases such as those used for council tax, housing benefit and school registers to cross-check with the electoral register. Electoral registration officers were asked to do this by the Electoral Commission in the changeover from household to individual electoral registration, but only 138 of the 380 EROs actually did.
If individual electoral registration is not introduced properly then millions more could join the six million unregistered by 2015. At one point predictions were made of 16 million unregistered. These citizens could be taken off the register days before the freeze date for the next boundary review in December 2015.
On top of the six million missing voters there are 11 million who do not vote. Electoral registration officers, the Electoral Commission, government, opposition and civic society need to do much more to put the missing millions back on the register and give them a reason to turn out to vote.
Chris Ruane MP is a member of the political and constitutional reform committee
Photo: David Sim
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