Most democratic countries today operate a system of Individual Electoral Registration (IER) rather than the Household Electoral Registration (HER) still employed in the UK (see lines 7 – 8, page 3 of the article by Toby S James on “Introducing IER in Britain”). This is why it is so important that all the main political parties should support the government’s efforts to change to IER and catch up with the rest of the world.
The main benefit of IER to the individual voter is that it will improve the security of the registration process, as first proposed by the Electoral Commission for mainland Britain in 2003, as part of its electoral modernization programme “Voting for Change”, on the basis that it was “vital to security…….particularly in relation to absent voting” and other forms of remote voting. Such improved security is even more vital in giving voters increased confidence in the end result at a time of declines in electoral participation, mistrust of political institutions and politicians, and a general disengagement from politics.
The case of Canada, which abolished HER in 1997 (see lines 17 – 25, page 3 of the above article), should also provide some comfort to those politicians concerned that the introduction of IER might adversely affect their “core vote”. When a new National Electoral Register was compiled by Election Canada and adopted for the first election in 2000, there were certainly reports of widespread confusion and some evidence that the new system had resulted in lower electoral participation rates e.g. in lower socio-economic groups. However, registration rates were subsequently increased by introducing data-matching projects. A comparable situation for IER in the UK would then have personal identifiers such as national insurance number and date of birth, further checked e.g. against data-bases held in the Department of Work & Pensions and HMRC.
In the UK, personal identifiers are only required for those seeking a postal or proxy vote and this then currently applies rather disproportionally to all British overseas citizens, or rather, those who have not already been deprived by law of their right to vote in UK national elections after more than 15 years abroad.
British overseas voters are further disadvantaged in registering compared with their fellow Britons of voting age resident in the UK, in that elections and registrations are conducted by local government in England and Wales, and in Scotland where there are Joint Valuation Boards which are responsible for Council Tax and also compile the electoral register in the majority of cases. A major motivating factor for local government in maximizing their voter registration numbers by concentrating on their more easily accessible local households, is then that these figures are used to determine Revenue Support Grants, the funding that central government provides local government.
Given the constraints on local government funding limiting registration efforts to their local households, and the seeming lack of interest in the overseas voter demonstrated by the main political parties e.g. in maintaining the rather arbitrary 15-year-rule for British nationals abroad, the overseas voter has to rely on the promotional efforts of the Electoral Commission to be reminded (www.aboutmyvote.co.uk) of the need and procedures required to register to vote in UK national elections, with only the most committed – some 30,000 out of up to 5.5 million – registered to vote at the last General Election in 2010.
Is this 15-year-rule just another example of unnecessary interference by politicians in the national voting rights of their fellow British citizens, for some perceived electoral advantage or disadvantage, which is contributing to the general disengagement from politics of the many potential overseas voters? Vote in support of removing this 15-year- rule!