Since the Electoral Registration and Administration Act became law in 2013 the completeness of registers has not improved, meaning millions of eligible voters may still be missing from them, risking disenfranchisement and damaging electoral integrity.
The Government must go further in modernising registration. It should consider introducing ‘assisted registration’ to prompt eligible voters to register when accessing other public services, and automatic registration for young people coming of age.
It should urgently explore options for an online registration checking tool to reduce duplicate applications at busy election times.
The current election system relies heavily on the dedication of administrators who are placed under immense pressure during elections. Current administrative deadlines should be reviewed to give administrators time to fulfil their duties, and funding and resourcing of elections must be reviewed.
These are some of the findings and conclusions of the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 Committee’s report, An electoral system fit for today? More to be done, published today.
Lord Shutt of Greetland, the Chair of the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 Committee, said:
“Millions of voters may still be missing from electoral registers. The Act has helped to make registers more accurate but they remain significantly incomplete. This is particularly the case with under-registered groups such as young people, frequent home movers, care home residents and people from BAME backgrounds. 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.
“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. We welcome the reforms to simplify the process, but they should go further.
“The Committee also shared the Law Commissions’ view on the need for the overall reform and streamlining of electoral law. We urge the Government to adopt its proposals at the earliest opportunity.”
The Committee’s other key findings and recommendations include:
- The Government needs to act on guaranteeing democratic representation, including tackling under-registration and reaching out to those who are currently under-represented and disenfranchised. Tackling under-registration among hard to reach groups will involve a variety of methods and approaches. A one-size-fits-all approach will not work.
- Government should properly compensate local authorities for the cost of registration activity during elections. At the moment they must find these resources from their own budgets, and cannot claim them back from government as they can with other election costs. There must also be a wider review of the costs of running elections and electoral registration, to ensure administrators have the resources they need.
- Overall incidence of fraud in UK elections is thought to be low, but its full extent is not known and there is a worrying perception that many people suspect fraud has been ongoing. The Government must target resources and support at local authorities where fraud may be occurring, and reform the process for investigating and prosecuting cases of fraud. Postal voting on demand should also be reviewed, and the merits of advance voting considered.
- Assuming the Government’s voter ID plans proceed, the Committee urges the Government to make sure they are implemented fairly and do not affect registration or turnout levels. Voter ID should not be rolled out for the first time at a General Election.