From Athens to Aspley

I have raised an important issue of voter registration in my constituency in Parliament today during a Westminster Hall debate.

Our free and fair democracy is at the very root of what has made our nation a special one. Voter registration ought to be of interest to all of us and I sought this debate for a reason. It was to publicly state a belief of mine that we should introduce a system of automatic registration.

The House of Commons Library estimates that there are about 6 million people missing from the register across the UK. However, no comparable data exists for local authorities and/or constituencies and therefore, it is not fully known the scale of the problem. Something which has been acknowledged by the Government Minister in today’s debate.

Every year local authorities write to every citizen in order to maintain their voter register. This is a lengthy process which cost around £65 million and puts a huge administrative burden on the local authority. However, only about 74.5% of people respond to Nottingham Council to confirm their address.

The annual canvass is too expensive, doesn’t produce fully accurate registers, and needs changing. I was pleased to see that the Minister agreed with me on that.

Registration rates remain particularly low amongst young people, recent homeowners and those living in privately rented accommodation. Only 76% of 18-19 year olds and 70% of 20-24 year olds are registered to vote compared with 95% of over 65s. The difference is even starker when you look at housing tenure: only 63% of private renters are registered, far from the 94% of those who own their own homes.

Automatic voter registration would make two transformative, yet simple, changes to voter registration: Eligible citizens who interact with government agencies would be registered to vote unless they decline. Secondly, agencies could transfer voter registration information electronically to election officials.

These two changes would create a seamless process that is more convenient and less error-prone for both voters and government officials. This policy would boost registration rates, clean up the rolls, make voting more convenient, and reduce the potential for voter fraud, all while lowering costs.

The end game is achieving full participation in our democracy – and an accurate system that is easier to administer.

The minister agreed with me that the voter registration system needs changing and that the Government will be bringing forward legislation to change it. However, he disagreed that automatic registration should be implemented. Although, he did not list a single reason against automatic registration apart from his personal belief that it shouldn’t be implemented.

You can watch the debate in full here: https://goo.gl/Aukc7x

Or you can read the transcript here: https://goo.gl/CspDY6

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