Letter: Finding the missing voters Enfranchising lost voices

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The Independent Online
Your report "Poll tax lost voters reappear" (21 July) is a relief to all who have campaigned against the pernicious impact of the poll tax on voting rights. Until its imposition, electoral registration levels were generally high. When it became law they dipped dramatically. My own estimates are that between 3 and 4 million people are disenfranchised. This has been described as "broadly correct" by the director of statistics at the former Office of Population Censuses and Surveys.

However, massive under-registration - which compromises democracy, damages census surveys, distorts opinion polls and central government grants to councils - cannot be blamed exclusively on the poll tax. Other reasons include increasing political alienation and rootlessness. The chief problem with the electoral registration system is that it is predicated on outdated social patterns. A voter registers where they live in October and keeps their vote at that place for up to 16 months. But increasinglypeople move around for economic and social reasons.

The solution is relatively simple and cheap - the introduction of a rolling register so that, with suitable safeguards against fiddling, citizens vote where they live, when they live there. But the Home Office refuses to accept the argument, on spurious cost grounds, but probably because they calculate that the Conservative Party benefits from high levels of electoral exclusion.

Harry Barnes MP

House of Commons

London SW1

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