Voters are paid to go on electoral roll

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TOWN halls are offering people financial inducements, from cash prizes to shopping vouchers, in an effort to get them to register to vote.

Local authorities are still struggling to compile electoral rolls in the aftermath of the introduction of the poll tax 10 years ago when an estimated two million people disappeared from voting registers.

The possibility that a failure to register could lead someone to be fined up to pounds 1,000 under the Representation of the People Act has also had little impact on the hard core of non-registering citizens.

The latest and most lucrative incentive comes from Leeds City Council which is offering eight prizes of pounds 300 in a cash draw if voters register before 10 September, while in Norwich young people have been targeted with an offer of Virgin vouchers worth pounds 30. Brighton has offered colour television sets and in Spelthorne, near Heathrow Airport, local businesses, including British Airways, have sponsored a scheme offering a variety of prizes, such as flight tickets.

John Turner, of the Association of Electoral Administrators, said: "The population is increasing and you would expect more people on the register rather than less, but it has been very difficult getting back to the previous level of numbers.

"There is always the suspicion the register is being used for other reasons."

Local authorities also suspect that the offer of a 25 per cent discount on council tax for people who live alone is also tempting people not to register to vote.

The benefits system, too, is believed to have an influence on non-registration. Mr Turner says town halls have evidence that two-parent families are claiming single-parent benefits and would drop a parent from the register to back up their claims.

"Year on year more councils are looking at incentives to persuade people to register," added Mr Turner.

Leeds City Council's deputy elections officer, Tom McCarthy, said that his authority's carrot of cash prizes was a pragmatic solution to non- registration.

"We have to face the fact that people don't like filling in forms. What we are doing now is really a calculated gamble.

"We could save pounds 23,000 in sending out reminders and final reminders by spending pounds 2,400 on cash prizes."

Leeds does not know how well its cash incentive is working yet but the early signs are good.

There are 50 sacks of returns waiting to be opened in the elections office.