Coalition proposals are likely to reduce electoral registration

Dr Toby S. James from the College of Arts and Humanities, Swansea University has submitted evidence to The Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee that the government’s plans to introduce Individual Electoral Registration (IER) to Britain before the general election are likely to reduce significantly the number of citizens on the electoral register.

The government recently published a White Paper proposing to fast-track individual electoral registration for England, Scotland and Wales where registration currently takes place on a household basis.  Citizens are not required to provide a date-of-birth or National Insurance number and there is no individual requirement to return the form, the head of the household simply lists all the people living at the address and they are automatically registered.

Under the new proposals, voters will be asked to register individually from 2014 and will need to provide this personal information before they register. 

This new evidence draws from Dr James’ research on electoral administration funded by the Nuffield Foundation and McDougall Trust, and his published articles on the effects of electoral administration and participation in elections combined with findings from a new research project.

As part of this extended research, Dr James interviewed 33 senior electoral officials from 18 local authorities to date and has revealed:

  • Levels of registration in the UK have been in decline for some years.  It was about 95% of the voting age population in the 1950s and 1960s. Estimates based on Census records suggest that the completeness of the registers was at 93.5% in 1980, 91–3% in 1990 and 91–2% in 2000.
  • Increases in the administrative costs of registering to vote and voting discourage participation.
  • Electoral registration significantly declined in Northern Ireland when individual registration was introduced.  Approximately 10% were wiped off the electoral register and registration levels were as low as 82% in 2004, the third register after which individual registration was introduced.

Dr James’ interviews also suggest that:

  • Many staff involved in the administration of elections expects the registration rates to decline following the introduction of individual registration. 
  • Many staff involved in the administration of elections expect considerable increases in the costs involved in administering elections as a result of introducing individual registration.  This may make elections difficult to administer at a time of local government budget cuts.

The research went on to make a number of recommendations that should be considered if IER is to be implemented, these include: that long-term funding should be considered given the context of local government cuts, provisions should be put in place to boost voter registration such as enabling voter registration when citizens access other government services, issues of voter accessibility are fully considered and the views of citizens towards the registration process should be carefully monitored.

Dr James said: ‘This is one of the most significant changes to election administration since Britain became a democracy.  Election administration is often overlooked, but it has important consequences for participation and confidence in democracy.  Individual registration needs to be carefully implemented and public awareness strategies should be carefully considered.’

For more information and full evidence of the report:  http://tobysjames.com/doc/Toby_James_IER_evidence.pdf.