Fairness of elections at risk as government refuses to find millions of missing voters, report warns

Rejection of auto-registration 'damaging to the integrity of elections', peers say - with young, frequent movers and ethnic minorities disenfranchised

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 08 July 2020 07:09 BST
The government has rejected data-matching to plug gaps in voting rolls – claiming it 'could lead to a less accurate electoral register'
The government has rejected data-matching to plug gaps in voting rolls – claiming it 'could lead to a less accurate electoral register' (Getty)

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The fairness of elections is at risk because of the government’s refusal to take steps to find millions of missing voters, a parliamentary report is warning.

Young people, those who move home frequently, and people from ethnic minority backgrounds are most likely to be disenfranchised because of huge gaps in electoral rolls, it finds.

Ministers are urged to adopt automatic voter registration when someone reaches adulthood and to use data from other public services to issue reminders to people to sign up.

But, as The Independent revealed last month, the government has rejected an official recommendation to use other databases and services – claiming to do so “could lead to a less accurate electoral register”.

Now a House of Lords committee has demanded an urgent rethink, warning accurate voting rolls are “key to a robust and resilient democracy”.

“Millions of voters may still be missing from electoral registers,” said chairman Lord Shutt of Greetland, adding: “Incomplete registers can only be damaging to the integrity of elections.”

The Electoral Commission believes around 9 million voters are missing from the rolls and will now not be counted when new Westminster constituencies are drawn up.

The watchdog called last year for other databases to be used to automatically enrol missing names, calling it a “key area” to improve the voting process – a common practice in other countries.

But the Cabinet Office revealed: “The government has no plans to introduce automatic voter registration as it could lead to a less accurate electoral register, especially if people have moved recently.”

Labour accused ministers of deliberately excluding voters least likely to back Boris Johnson’s party.

Today’s report, from a committee reassessing the 2013 Electoral Registration and Administration Act, calls for:

* An online registration ‘checking tool’ to be explored – to reduce duplicate applications.

* Compensation for local councils for the significant cost of registering voters during election periods.

* Consideration to be given to postal voting on demand and advance voting.

* Plans to demand ID at the ballot box not be introduced for the first time at a general election.

Lord Shutt, a Liberal Democrat, added: “Government must take further steps to modernise the system.

“This includes automatic registration for young people joining registers as they come of age, assisted registration to prompt eligible voters to register when accessing other public services, and an online registration checking tool.”

The report was welcomed by the Commission, which said: “Voter registration systems have not kept pace with the times.

“We are pleased the committee supports the case for reform. There is a real opportunity to take action now and help improve the completeness and accuracy of electoral registers.”

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