One reason why registration rates for overseas voters are so low is illustrated by research below into Individual Electoral Registration (IER). A change to IER from their former and compulsary Householder Electoral Registration (HER), is already required of British citizens moving abroad to register for either a postal or proxy overseas vote (see www.aboutmyvote.co.uk). The research indicates that although IER might improve the security of the domestic registration process, it is likely to lead to a considerable decline in levels of electoral registration, which have already been declining in recent years, and might be highest for e.g. the young, elderly and minority populations. Other studies referred to in the research have shown that “some forms of election administration create barriers to participation by increasing the “costs” to the citizen of registering to vote and casting a vote“, which is indeed the case with the current rather time-consuming and bureaucratic task facing would be overseas voters. Studies have also shown that “individuals will be more likely to register to vote and cast their ballot when it is more convenient to do so“. Of course the final barrier created to British overseas citizens’ participation is then the 15-year-rule which deprives them of their right to vote after more than 15 years abroad!
Certainly Harry Shindler the veteran voting rights campaigner doesn’t think that it’s apathy that is the cause of the low voting rates of overseas British citizens.
Toby S James, a lecturer at Swansea University who specialises in public policy, election laws, political leadership and the political process, has commented in his blog posting on New Research on Individual Electoral Registration – Policy Implications. He has also produced an article – TobyJamesindividualreg – to be published in Parliamentary Affairs. His article has in summary a number of important policy implications and recommendations for the legislation and future practice of elections in the UK:
- Individual registration is likely to lead to a considerable decline in levels of registration, especially amongst the younger, elder and minority populations. The government could consider therefore other new schemes to offset the anticipated decline. These might include:
- Online registration (this was always the plan, it seems, but it is important that it is taken forward….)
- Allowing citizens to register to vote when accessing other government services such as obtaining a driving licence. The majority of new registrants in America register to vote via this mechanism. This could be an especially effective way of targeting younger citizens.
- Providing penalties for those who do not register (which now appears to be on the cards…)
- Individual registration is a more resource intensive way of compiling the electoral register than household registration. There may also be many unforeseen costs to local government at a time that they are faced with budget cuts. Returning and registration officers may therefore make cuts in other services to allow for the introduction of individual registration. Measures should be put in place to ensure sufficient long-term funding of elections. This could involve ring-fencing new funding for election departments.
- The requirement for citizens to provide personal identifiers, such as a national insurance number, may confuse many voters. The views of citizens towards the registration process should be carefully monitored through survey research after the implementation of IER.