The link below to the BBC News article “Q&A: Changes to the way people register to vote”, provides answers to the key questions on what the introduction of Individual Electoral Registration (IER) will mean for future elections.
It is said that the aim of the Electoral Registration & Administration Bill is to tackle electoral fraud, since there are no systematic checks on the information householders provide in their annual form. No actual estimate is given of the number of fraudulent entries on the Electoral Register.
What is very apparent, however, is that the current system is not very effective. The Electoral Commission estimates that some 6 million people are missing from the Register, not to mention the additional 5-6 million British citizens overseas, of which only some 30,000 were registered at the last general election in 2010.
This represents some 11 million British citizens not registered to vote!
According to the Minister responsible, Mark Harper, the Parliamentary Secretary for Political & Constitutional Reform, in the written answer below, it is important that the electoral registration system is modernised:
“Increasing registration is not solely the responsibility of government. Electoral registration officers appointed by but independent of local authorities have a duty to encourage participation in the electoral process and the Electoral Commission promotes public awareness of registration. Parliamentarians and elected officials from each of the political parties must also provide people with compelling reasons to register and participate”.
One illustration of the problem is research by Professor Jon Tong, a politics professor at Liverpool University, who has found that only 37% of 18 – 24 year olds strongly agree that it is every citizen’s duty to vote in an election (The Times, 30th April, 2012). In addition, according to Professor Tong, “low turn-out tends to correlate with areas of high poverty where people have much more right to feel disenfranchised by politics”. Labour has, therefore, warned that as many as 10 million people could “fall off” the Electoral Register as well!
Just as the government must provide Britain’s young people with ” compelling reasons to register and participate”, so should it address the problem of under-registration of overseas voters. It should not assume that this is just due to general apathy and use this excuse to continue with the discriminatory 15-year-limit on their voting rights. An “In/Out” referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union (EU) for example, would impact and, therefore, should concern all British citizens resident in the EU to have a vote, and not just those living within the United Kingdom.