Time to allow people to check online if already registered to vote


The May 2015 polls were well-run overall with high levels of voter satisfaction, finds a report by the Electoral Commission. It makes a number of recommendations, following lessons learnt from the General Election, including that the registration system should meet voters’ expectations following the successful introduction of online registration by also letting voters check if they are registered online.

The Electoral Commission’s report found that:

  • Nine in ten people surveyed (91%) said the elections in May were well-run.
  • Nearly all (94%) of those who voted in person at a polling station were satisfied with the process.
  • Nearly all (97%) of those who voted by post were satisfied with voting this way. Just over 16% of electors chose to vote by post at the General Election, at the 2010 General Election, the figure was 15%.

Electoral registration

  • There were 2.6 million applications to register to vote during the Electoral Commission’s six week public awareness campaign leading to over 1.5 million additions to the electoral registers. This was supported by extensive work on the ground by electoral administrators and the activity of a wide range of other organisations.
  • The Commission’s report found 85% of people were satisfied with the procedure for registering to vote.
  • There were almost 106,000 overseas electors on the register in May 2015, three times the number that were on the register ahead of the last general election when almost 33,000 overseas electors were registered.

Commenting on the increase in additions to the electoral registers, Jenny Watson, Chair of the Electoral Commission, said:

“Given the range of public services now available online, it’s not surprising that voters expect a service that allows them to check if they’re already registered to vote before having to complete an application. That is a sensible next step in refreshing our registration system for the 21st century.

“A significant set of elections are taking place next May and the Commission will once again run major public awareness campaigns to remind people it takes just a few minutes to complete a registration application online.”

Electoral Commission Recommendations

  • Online registration

The Commission recommends that the online system of registering to vote is extended to people in Northern Ireland. The Commission has also recommended that people should be able to use an online service to check whether they are already correctly registered to vote.

Some broadcasters played an important part in driving people to apply to register to vote with registration reminders during the leaders’ debates. Broadcasters should continue to promote awareness of electoral registration during any future leaders’ debates and political programmes ahead of future elections and referendums.

  • Overseas voters

The Commission is recommending that all Returning Officers (ROs) ensure that postal ballot packs for overseas electors have the correct postage so that they can be delivered to voters and returned as soon as possible, and that funding is made available to ROs to deliver this.

The Commission will work with the Government and ROs to identify other practical steps which could be taken to improve access to the voting process for overseas electors.

  • ID at polling stations

Electoral fraud is not widespread in the UK, and more than three in four (77%) people said they see voting in general as safe from fraud. Nevertheless, the Commission’s research has identified a consistent underlying level of concern about electoral fraud and a third of people (35%) said that they thought fraud took place at the May 2015 elections.

The Commission has reiterated its 2014 recommendation that voters at polling stations in England, Scotland and Wales should be required to provide proof of their identity before being issued with a ballot paper, and that the UK Government should legislate to introduce this requirement in time for elections in 2019. The Commission will publish proposals for a proportionate and accessible scheme for verifying the identity of electors at polling stations by the end of 2015.

Jenny Watson added:

“Equally important is sustaining voters’ trust in our election processes. The Commission has already called on the UK Government to commit to bringing in a requirement for voters at polling stations in England, Scotland and Wales to show proof of their identity in time for the 2019 elections. We’ve undertaken detailed research on how it could improve voters’ confidence in the security of the system and will bring forward proposals about how it could work in practice later this year. We look forward to working with the Government to implement our proposals.”

The Commission’s view at present is that there were high levels of compliance with the rules by parties and candidates. Later this year, the Electoral Commission will publish campaigners’ spending returns which will give voters transparency about the election campaigns.