Labour manifesto: Party would introduce automatic voter registration to raise turnout

The move would see an end to the need for voter registration drives

Jon Stone
Thursday 21 November 2019 15:03
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Highlights as Jeremy Corbyn launches Labour manifesto

A Labour government would bring in a system of automatic voter registration alongside a raft of other measures to modernise UK elections, the party's manifesto says.

The opposition party is planning what could the biggest extension of the voting franchise for nearly a century, extending full voting rights to all legal UK residents as well as 16 and 17 year olds.

But it also plans to change the current registration system introduced by the Coalition government to one where people are automatically on the list, "unlocking millions of potential voters".

Many countries around the world already automatically register voters or allow same-day registration at polling stations. Similar systems are for example active in 16 US states and countries like Finland, Sweden, and South Korea.

Other countries allow "same-day registration" where voters who did not register in advance can sign up at a polling station – giving similar advantages.

Critics of the current UK system, which requires registration well in advance, say it suppresses voter turnout because some people inevitably forget or do not have time to register before election day.

Cat Smith, Labour's Shadow Minister for Voter Engagement, described the policy as "the sensible thing to do".

“We are currently facing an unprecedented democratic crisis with up to 9 and a half million people in Great Britain not registered to vote correctly," she said.

"The next Labour government will take radical steps to drastically increase voter registration. Drawing on the many successful examples around the world, we will introduce a system of automatic voter registration unlocking millions of potential voters from our democracy."

The system would likely benefit Labour, because a large proportion of its voters are young and rent their homes: such voter are more likely to fall off the electoral register, as under the current system people who move house need to register again.

Earlier this week the Electoral Commission warned that a staggering one in three teenagers are not registered to vote – with just one week until the deadline to do so – compared with only 6 per cent of pensioners.Voters can register on www.gov.uk/register-to-vote – the deadline to vote in December's election is 26 November.

Ethnic minorities are also disproportionately affected, with a staggering in four black and Asian people are also not registered to vote, the watchdog said.

Labour's manifesto says: "A Labour government will repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, which has stifled democracy and propped up weak governments. We will maintain 650 constituencies and respond objectively to future, independent boundary reviews.

"We will oversee the largest extension of the franchise in generations, reducing the voting age to 16, giving full voting rights to all UK residents, making sure everyone who is entitled to vote can do so by introducing a system of automatic voter registration, and abandoning plans to introduce voter ID which has been shown to harm democratic rights."

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