(Representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission): The Electoral Commission has today published a report on its analysis of the December 2014 electoral registers in England and Wales. This is part of the Commission’s programme of work monitoring the progress of the transition to individual electoral registration (IER). In April, it will publish equivalent data and analysis for Scotland, which began the transition to IER on 19 September after the referendum on independence.
The publication of the December registers is a key milestone in the transition to IER, but it is not the end of the process and work has been, and still is, continuing to ensure that as many people as possible are registered to vote at their correct address in advance of the May 2015 polls.
The Commission’s analysis of the December registers identified that the size of the December 2014 electorate in England and Wales was approximately 2% lower than it was following the final household canvass in February/March 2014. This means there were around 920,000 fewer entries on the registers in December 2014. This decline is likely attributable to the lack of comprehensive household canvass activity in 2014. The processes followed in 2014 were unique in this regard; canvass activity in 2015 and all subsequent years will involve sending forms to all properties to check who is resident at an address and to identify new electors who can subsequently be invited to register.
To address this, the Commission has strongly recommended that all electoral registration officers (EROs) carry out an audit of their registers by sending a letter to every property in their area showing who is registered to vote at that particular address and prompting anyone who is not yet registered to do so. All EROs in England and Wales have confirmed that they have or will be carrying out this activity or are considering other comprehensive activity which seeks to address the issues identified by our analysis of the 1 December registers data. Should any ERO decide not to undertake such activity, the Commission will make a recommendation to the Secretary of State to issue a direction to require them to do so. The Commission also welcomed the January 2015 announcement that £6.8 million would be made available to EROs to support activity to maximise registration, and many EROs have used their share of this to fund sending out these household notification letters.
There also appear to have been more specific challenges, including the registration of students at their term-time address; therefore some local authorities with large student and young mobile populations have seen larger than average falls in numbers of entries on the register. The Commission also reports that the number of registered attainer—16 and 17-year-olds—is significantly lower than in previous years.
While no one on the 1 December registers will be removed from the register before the May 2015 elections unless the ERO is no longer satisfied that they are entitled to remain registered at that address, more needs to be done to target those not yet included on the register at their current address.
EROs have comprehensive plans in place to get people registered and the Commission is running online and television advertising campaigns to encourage people to register. The results of this activity are already encouraging and we welcome the great work that has been done, and is still planned, by a huge number of organisations to get voters registered. It is positive that as of the publication date of the Commission’s analysis, around 2 million applications to register have already been made since 1 December—166,000 of which were on national voter registration day itself. We know that some of these will be duplicate entries and therefore not new additions to the register and that more work is clearly needed, however, the Commission is also confident that appropriate plans are in place to ensure voters know what they need to do to get registered.
The Commission is also working with partners including the National Union of Students, the Association of Colleges and Universities UK among other organisations to help get students and other young people registered and is planning further public awareness activity specifically targeted at these groups.
The Commission has encountered problems collecting reliable data from each ERO due to issues with the electoral management software (EMS) systems they use to manage the electoral register. The Cabinet Office contracted directly with suppliers to provide these systems and the Commission provided the Cabinet Office with a clear indication of the data that they and EROs would need to make a full assessment of progress. Despite this, not all local authorities have been able to provide the management information the Commission expected. The absence of some key data, and issues with the quality of other aspects of the data, has affected the analysis the Commission is able to do at this stage. In particular, the Commission could not obtain a full set of data of a sufficient quality to enable a detailed analysis of progress with the transition to IER in this report.
These issues with data have created a real risk that the Commission will not have sufficient information to be able to make a robust, evidence-based recommendation in June 2015 to inform the UK Government’s decision on whether to recommend to Parliament that the end of the transition should be brought forward. The Commission’s report sets out that, without urgent action by the Cabinet Office and software suppliers to ensure that the necessary data will be available to allow for a full and rigorous analysis of the state of the registers, it is highly unlikely that the Commission will be able to recommend that the end of the transition be brought forward to December 2015.
Copies of the Commission’s report have been placed in the Library and it is also available on the Commission’s website: www.electoralcommission.org.uk