Making voters

In electoral register on September 16, 2011 by dadge

Voters don’t just exist, they have to be made. Either the Conservatives don’t understand this or they’re involved in a particularly cynical plan to give themselves an easy ride at future elections – by removing from the electoral register many of the people who disagree with them.

Last June the Government published its plans for individual voter registration. They say the main reason for the change is to improve the accuracy and completeness of the register. The plans will in fact make the register much less complete than it is now (and it’s estimated that it’s only 90% complete at the moment), and if it’s less complete, how can it be more accurate?

Instead of local councils asking someone from each household to complete a registration form, they’re going to rely on 45 million people applying to fill a form in. Paragraph 44 of the White Paper states:
“When IER is introduced, an application for registration must be made by each person individually to the ERO for the area in which they are applying to be registered. It will be a matter of choice for the individual if they wish to register.”

As experts lined up this week to tell the constitutional reform select committee, this change will decimate the electoral roll. It’s already hard work, getting young people and poor people to register to vote, even when it’s against the law not to, so are we really going to introduce a system that will strip millions more (non-Tory) voters from the list? The government already seems ready to start removing people, albeit they’re having the decency (!) to wait until 2015:
“No voters will be removed from the electoral register for not registering individually until after the next General Election,” quoth their press release.

The two excuses for the change seem to be reducing cost and reducing fraud. And I’m sceptical about how much money would be saved. Instead of a clear and costed system of canvassing, we’ll be spending a fortune scraping the barrel to find ways of persuading people to register. A better way to save money would be to stop having an annual canvass. We need one the year before a general election, and one more in the middle of the 5-year cycle. In between, we can rely on the so-called rolling registration.

Now don’t get me wrong, voter fraud has become an increasingly taxing problem over the last twenty years, but there are other ways of tackling it. Better voter education would help, but the best medicine would be better policing. Although I’m a big fan of good old-fashioned British trust, the attitude at British polling stations is too laissez-faire, and the postal voting system was also relaxed to the point where fraud became inevitable.

Just as, quite correctly, the courts didn’t take kindly to anyone who participated, in any way, in last month’s riots, they need to get tough with electoral criminals. Not only the fraudsters, but also the hundreds of thousands of people who don’t register to vote. The last couple of years I’ve spent part of the autumn out on the streets of Handsworth, getting people to sign their registration form. The official line is that we should tell people that they need to register because it helps them to get credit*, but to hell with that – our democracy is important. Let’s start taking people to court, and then maybe they’ll think twice before refusing to sign.

* (I notice that, despite this oft-repeated sales pitch, the chairman of the EROs, John Stewart, told the select committee that it might be better to stay off the electoral register because it’s used to combat credit fraud.)

It doesn’t matter if Joe Bloggs doesn’t want to register, that’s tough shit. Britain is a representative democracy, and in order for that democracy to function effectively we need a complete register of electors. (For one thing, the monolithic multi-million-pound boundary review that’s just started is predicated on there being an accurate register.) Once you’ve got the vote, you can do what you like with it, but it’s your duty to register.

An end to this pussyfooting. We put people in jail for not having a TV licence, ffs.

Further reading:
The completeness and accuracy of electoral registers in Great Britain


One Response to “Making voters”

  1. Yes, it is the responsibility of the person to register. It never has been, however, the right of a specific person to do so. The “Head of the Household” phenomenon which exists throughout the country denies many young people and women their place on the register. You can be sure, too, that there are hundreds of fake names and recently deceased who do find themselves registered to vote year in, year out.

    What we need to do is return all the power we can to electoral officers to maintain an accurate register….and introduce individual registration as soon as possible. If someone feels they don’t want to go on there, that is a matter for the authorities. It shouldn’t be a matter for the State, per se, if someone decides they don’t want to register to vote.

    I am against compulsory voting, and I am all for individual registration.

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