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4 November 2011

Voter registration plans need to be rethought, report says

Millions could be saved from falling off electoral register.

By Mark Jenner

The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee has today published a report into the government’s reforms to voter registration, suggesting that key parts of the legislation need to be rethought.

The initial proposals, to implement a system of Individual Electoral Registration (IER), were widely seen as a welcome move away from “head-of-household registration”, thought to be out of date and prone to fraud. However legislation currently going through the House of Commons also plans to abolish the annual canvass of households, allowing potential voters the ability to ‘opt-out’, and removing the necessity to co-operate with electoral registration officers (EROs).

Mehdi Hassan, writing in the New Statesman last month, argued that the legislation as it stands would produce a “sick democracy, with fewer registered voters and lower turn­outs” adding “It is the biggest political scandal you’ve never heard of.” And the Electoral Reform Society claimed that “the government was making it possible for citizens to ‘opt out’ from democracy,” potentially wiping millions (of largely Labour leaning voters) form the electoral register.

Signs that the government was rethinking the more controversial aspects of its reforms materialised in October when deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he was “minded to change these provisions” in the face of accusations of political gerrymandering. The Committee’s report goes further by supporting the continuation of the annual canvass and the ability to penalise non-compliance.

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Welcoming the report, Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society said:

This is welcome reading for anyone interested in our democracy. Westminster was sleepwalking towards a catastrophic drop in voter registration. We’re pleased politicians have finally woken up to the problem. These missing millions are avoidable, and the government must now take heed.

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