This Commons Briefing Paper provides information about the introduction of the new system of electoral registration (IER) in Great Britain and funding both for the transition period and to support a range of initiatives to increase the level of voter registration among under-registered groups, including students. Registration in Northern Ireland has been on an individual basis since 2002.Jump to full report >>
The Government decided to bring forward the end date for the transition to the new system of Individual Electoral Registration to December 2015 instead of December 2016 as provided for in the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013. The Government argued that to do so would mean a more accurate register. However, there have been concerns that a more accurate register is not necessarily a more complete register.
The December 2015 electoral register has been used for calculating the electoral quota by the Boundary Commissions for the next review of constituency boundaries.
The Electoral Commission published an Assessment of December 2015 electoral registers in Great Britain, on 24 February 2016.
The Commission reported that:
The Commission will publish an assessment of the accuracy and completeness of the December 2015 registers in July 2016.
On 9 January 2015 the Government had announced that there would be additional funding of up to £9.8 million in 2015 “to support the costs of activities aimed at increasing the completeness and accuracy of the electoral register”; a further £3 million of additional funding was also made available for Electoral Registration Officers in Great Britain to target non IER registered carry forward electors.
The Briefing Paper provides background to the introduction of the new system of IER which began in 2014. The last Labour Government made provision for the introduction of IER in the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009 and the implementation was to be phased.
The Coalition Government announced in 2010 that it was going to speed up the introduction of the new system and the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 made provision for the introduction of IER by 2015.
The introduction of a new system of electoral registration followed repeated calls by the Electoral Commission for a change in the law and concerns about electoral fraud and the integrity of the register.
Registration used to be done by household canvass; someone at each address filled in the annual canvass form on behalf of everyone living there who was eligible to vote. The new system requires everyone to register individually and to provide personal identifiers: date of birth and National Insurance number. The personal identifiers verify the elector’s identity and can be cross checked with the Department of Work and Pensions database or local authority held data.
The transition to IER began in June 2014. The majority of electors were transferred to the new system by the data matching of their details against the Department of Work and Pensions database.
The transition period was due to end in December 2016 but the Government decided to bring forward the end date for transition to December 2015 arguing that to do so would mean a more accurate register by retaining “carry forward” electors (those who had not yet registered individually under the new system) were retained beyond December 2015, there would be an “unacceptable risk to the accuracy of the register”. However, there are concerns that a more accurate register is not necessarily a more complete register.
An Order ended the transition twelve months early. The Association of Electoral Administrators agreed with the Government and its Chief Executive noted that it was “crucial to have the most accurate register possible and have confidence that everyone on the register is who they say they are”.
The Electoral Commission disagreed with the Government and urged that the end date for the transition to IER should remain, as provided for in the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013, as December 2016 because otherwise there was “a risk to the completeness of the register and to participation, with retained entries relating to eligible voters being removed”.
£108 million was initially allocated to meet the cost of implementing IER.
On 9 January 2015 the Government announced that there would be additional funding of up to £9.8 million in 2015 “to support the costs of activities aimed at increasing the completeness and accuracy of the electoral register”.
A further £3 million of additional funding was also made available for Electoral Registration Officers in Great Britain to target non IER registered carry forward electors.
On 24 February 2015, the Cabinet Office gave details of £530,000 provided by the Coalition Government to encourage students to register to vote. The NUS received £380,000, with the remaining £150,000 being divided between organisations in the further education sector.
In July 2015 the Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA) published a report on the introduction of IER and the May 2015 elections, Elections and the introduction of Individual Electoral Registration: the challenge of 2015.
Chapter five of the report examined the transition to IER. There was a surge in online registration applications following National Registration Day on 5 February 2015 and an Electoral Commission television campaign; some electoral administrators commented on the number of duplicate registrations.
The AEA concluded that “Whilst IER has been delivered successfully along with the introduction of online registration, this report has highlighted some of the issues during the run up to the elections, including the volume of duplicate registrations and implications for absent voting. IER appears to have been a success and, for that reason, the end of IER transition should be December 2015 to provide certainty for the important elections in 2016 and the European Referendum whenever that is held”.
The AEA called for a full review of the new system to allow IER to become “more efficient, less bureaucratic and easier to understand from the individual’s perspective”.
Northern Ireland has had a system of individual electoral registration since 2002. Electoral fraud had been a long-standing problem there and following the 1997 general election, recommendations for change were made by the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee and the Northern Ireland Office review Administering Elections in Northern Ireland.
A White Paper was published in March 2001, Combating Electoral Fraud in Northern Ireland, which proposed that the elector’s date of birth and signature would become required information on the electoral registration form.
The Electoral Fraud (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 implemented the white paper’s recommendations and required people registering to vote to provide their personal details including a National Insurance number.