Letter: Reach out into an alienated society and find those missing voters

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Sir: Further to Ian Burrell's valuable report "Britain's missing 2 million voters" (7 November) may I add that one reason why we have so many people missing is that our creaking system of electoral registration is half a century out of date? It has failed to keep up with increasing social mobility as people move around the country with their jobs or by getting on their bikes to look for jobs.We have become an increasingly rootless society with large pockets of unemployment, deprivation and alienation. We need a system that actively encourages people to register for the vote.

Solutions are not complex or expensive. First, we need a system of rolling registration. This is favoured by many electoral registration officers. With suitable safeguards, it allows people to register to vote where they live and when they live there. It is claimed that it might cost pounds 4m to introduce. But what price democracy?

The Government spends very little on advertising to boost electoral registration. In the current year, they are only spending pounds 685,000. Yet they are happy to spend many more millions promoting privatisation.

Likewise the Government should recognise that electoral registration officers have become an underfunded Cinderella service. They are absolutely professional and are doing their very best but within great constraints.

Many thousands of homeless people should be allowed to register where they reside, even if this is not the bricks and mortar most of us have. Access to voting and polling stations for disabled people should be increased. At the last election nearly 90 per cent of polling stations were inaccessible to disabled people.

From the Great Reform Act of 1832 to various acts of emancipation in 1867, 1884, 1918, 1928, 1948 and 1969, which gradually expanded the franchise, governments of all hues have been forced to recognise the necessity of protecting and expanding the right to vote. In recent years, we have slipped. It is a disgrace which any decent government would remedy as an immediate priority.

HARRY BARNES MP

(Derbyshire North East, Lab)

House of Commons

London SW1

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