An Electoral Commission analysis of local authority electoral registers, published on 1 December 2014, has found that at that point, there were 82,043 fewer entries than in February / March that year across Wales, a reduction of around 4%.
The popularity of the new online registration system continues to remain high with user satisfaction of over 90% across England and Wales. However, the report identifies problems with the electoral management systems used by electoral administrators to share information about their electoral registers with the Commission. Unless this is resolved it is highly unlikely that the Commission will be in a position to recommend this summer that the end of the transition to Individual Electoral Registration can be brought forward from December 2016.
The Commission’s report identifies a range of activity that has happened since the snapshot of the registers on 1 December and sets out what further work needs to happen before the General Election in order to ensure that the registers are as accurate and complete as possible. The Commission has welcomed the UK Government’s announcement of additional funding which has helped Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) to send household notification letters to every household in their area showing who is registered to vote and prompting anyone who is not to apply. This activity is taking place now.
The report also notes that almost 2 million people across England and Wales have applied to register since 1 December. Whilst this shows that voter registration activity is having an impact, it is not possible to tell from the current data what proportion of these applications may be from people who are already on the register. The Commission will continue to closely monitor progress in getting people onto the registers.
The Commission’s report has confirmed that there has been a reduction of approximately 82,043 (4%) entries on the 1 December 2014 registers in Wales compared to those published in February / March that year.
The Commission’s analysis has found that three traditionally under-registered groups have been the least likely to be added to the registers.
The lack of a full household canvass in autumn 2014, a situation unique to 2014, meant that recent home movers were not captured as effectively as they would have been during a typical annual canvass where all households would receive a form, and local authorities would follow this with house to house enquiries as needed.
The ‘Household Notification Letter’ currently being sent by EROs will help get more recent home movers onto the registers.
The December registers illustrate a specific challenge of registering students at their term-time address. All EROs have public engagement strategies in place and those with large student populations have specific activities planned to target students.
The Commission is running online advertising targeting students to encourage them to register to vote at their term-time address.
The Commission has also been working with the NUS, the Association of Colleges, Universities UK and other bodies to encourage registration drives on university and college campuses.
- Attainers (16 and 17 year olds)
The December registers show that getting new attainers, those who will have turned 18 by polling day, onto the registers has been a particular challenge.
The household notification letter will be a significant mechanism for increasing the number of attainers registered. This letter encourages anyone living at a property but not yet shown as being registered, including those not yet 18, to register online via www.gov.uk/register-to-vote.
The Commission is also targeting attainers with specific adverts telling them how to register. This includes advertising on the UCAS website.
What is happening to get people registered?
Electoral Registration Officers, the Electoral Commission and its partners have been, and are, undertaking a range of activities to get people onto the electoral register before the 20 April registration deadline. There have been around 2 million applications to register to vote across England and Wales since 1 December, many of which have been through the new online registration system, which over 90% of users have indicated they have found positive to use.
The Commission, and partners across the public, private and voluntary sectors, are using a range of ways to target students and young people. The Commission will be using social media and will also be directly targeting students with mobile phones on the networks of EE, O2 and Vodafone through SMS/MMS messaging. The texts will include a link to gov.uk/register-to-vote.
The Electoral Commission will launch a major TV advertising campaign on 16 March encouraging everyone to make sure they are registered to vote.
Kay Jenkins, Head of the Electoral Commission’s office in Wales, said:
“The registers published on 1 December 2014 are a snapshot of the electorate at that time and they indicate there has been a reduction in the number of entries although our analysis has been hindered by problems with the software used by electoral administrators. Without urgent action by the UK Government and software suppliers to address this, it is highly unlikely that we could recommend that the end of the transition to Individual Electoral Registration should be brought forward in our report this summer.”
“Electoral Registration Officers and their teams are working hard every day to ensure that everyone who is eligible can register to vote. The letters being sent to every household now will help to ensure the registers are up to date.
“But there is more that we can all do to encourage those who aren’t registered to do so now, well ahead of the deadline. It’s now easy to register online and it takes just a few minutes to complete an application at gov.uk/register-to-vote. Nobody wants to see a single person miss out from having their say on 7 May because they’re not registered and everyone now needs to work hard to make this happen.”
Recommendations for the UK Government and electoral management software suppliers
The Electoral Commission has previously reported that EROs have encountered problems with the functionality of the electoral management software systems that they use. While this has not affected their ability to get people registered to vote it has affected the quality of data they have been able to provide the Commission, which in turn has limited the Commission’s ability to report on the overall transition to IER.
The Commission will report again in June 2015 on progress with the transition to IER, and must be able to conduct a full and robust analysis of the registers based on reliable data. These issues with data have created a real risk that the Commission will not have sufficient information to be able to make a robust, evidence-based recommendation in June 2015 to inform the UK Government’s decision on whether to recommend to Parliament that the end of the transition should be brought forward to December 2015, rather than December 2016 as currently set out in legislation.
We will continue to work closely with the Cabinet Office, electoral management software suppliers and administrators to resolve the problems this report identifies.
To read the report, click here