Today, the Electoral Commission has finally published a report on the state of the electoral register. Labour has warned for months now that around a million voters may have fallen off the register in 2014 leaving them unable to vote in the general election as the government hastily introduced the new system of individual electoral registration. This report sets out the extent of the challenge we face.
The report confirms that nearly a million voters have fallen off the register in 2014. The new system of IER is simply not ensuring the same levels of registration as before. Levels of additions to the register fell by 75 per cent last year. The decrease has affected almost the entire country, with 268 local authorities reporting a fall in the number of registered electors.
But we also know that certain groups are disproportionately hit by the new system. In Camden, for example, the electorate has decreased by six per cent but in two wards with particularly high student populations the decreases were above 20 per cent. Perhaps most shockingly, the Electoral Commission confirmed that the number of attainers – those who will be turning 18 and able to vote shortly – registered to vote has fallen by 33 per cent. It is also worth remembering that this report highlights the incomplete register as a result of the churn in 2014. There are another 7.5 million electors not registered to vote.
There is still time to take action. The government should introduce the Schools’ Initiative immediately, which puts a responsibility on schools to work with the Electoral Registration Officer to register their pupils. When implemented in Northern Ireland this measure led to a dramatic increase in the number of young people registered to vote. They can also work with universities to allow en bloc registration so students in halls of residence can register more easily.
However, a lot of the progress on the ground will be undertaken by local government. Voter registration should be intertwined with all local services so whenever a citizen comes into contact with the council they are offered the opportunity to register. This has proved incredibly successful in Sandwell, among other authorities, which is bucking the trend and maintaining registration levels. And if the government are refusing to implement the Schools’ Initiative, we should try and do it ourselves. In Liverpool, I am working with headteachers and my local ERO to try and get as many youngsters signed up in schools before the deadline on 20 April. Schools are intertwining the process with class assembly or classes on citizenship.
Indeed, there is more we can all do. Can we ensure friends and colleagues are aware of the new online registration process? Even sharing the website on social media is a start. Could we remind local institutions – places of worship, our gyms and libraries – to advertise a reminder about the need to register?
We have less than two months until the deadline for registering to vote and it is time for all hands to be on deck. There is a real danger that people will turn up at the ballot box and find out they are unable to vote. To avoid this, let’s all do as much as we can to get people registered.
Stephen Twigg MP is shadow minister for constitutional reform
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