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Voter Registration

Volume 631: debated on Wednesday 22 November 2017

The Government are currently considering the 256 responses to our call for evidence on the accessibility of voter registration and voting. I will soon lay draft legislation to improve the accessibility of the anonymous registration scheme for survivors of domestic violence, and I recently implemented the findings of an accessibility review on the “Register to vote” website.

A 2014 survey by Mencap found that 60% of people with a learning disability found the process of registering to vote too difficult. Registration forms are often complicated and not accompanied by an easy read guide. The Electoral Commission report, “Elections for everyone”, published earlier this month, agrees and calls on the Minister to act. Will he commit to improving the Government’s online registration process, and will he ensure that every local authority provides easy read information and a good helpline, so that no one with a learning disability is disenfranchised?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising the report by Mencap, which has been working closely with the Cabinet Office and is a member of the “accessibility to elections” working group. I do not disagree with the premise of her question: we need to do more, in the 21st century, to make sure that our elections are accessible for everyone and that we remove barriers for those who are disabled. I am absolutely committed to doing that. It is right that we now consider all the responses and we will publish our report later next year.

Millions of people are missing from the electoral registers, but there are high levels of support for reforming our electoral registration system—in particular, for automatic voter registration when a person receives their national insurance number. When will the Government implement the necessary reforms to ensure that our democracy works for the many, not just the few?

We believe that we need a democracy that works for everyone, which is why we are determined to introduce a democratic engagement strategy, which will be published in December. When it comes to those on the electoral register, a record 46.8 million people are now registered to vote. Actually, since the introduction of individual electoral registration, 30 million people have registered to vote, 75% of them using the online system. That is a remarkable success.

Any form of electoral fraud will be taken extremely seriously by this Government. We have already stated that we intend to implement a number of recommendations made by Sir Eric Pickles’s report, “Securing the ballot”. Double voting is obviously a crime and we encourage anyone who has evidence of it to report it to the police. I recently met the Electoral Commission and the National Police Chiefs Council, and we will meet every six months to look at a strategy for tackling double voting. By introducing future reforms to postal voting, we hope that we will be able combat the issue.

The Electoral Commission estimates that some 40% of those who applied late to vote through the online system were actually duplicate registrations. Will my hon. Friend make sure that there is no unnecessary duplication of applications? That would also minimise bureaucracy.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The registration website has been incredibly successful: there were nearly 3 million applications to register at the last general election. Of course, there will be people who register having been registered locally already. There are local solutions to the issue. Local authorities such as Hackney have a look-up tool, and it is right that we explore further what solutions there may be, but I believe that a centralised database may be too costly.

According to figures published by the Electoral Commission, nearly 11,000 people tried to vote on 8 June but found that they were not registered to vote once they reached the polling station. Will the Government examine the use of Government data to place electors on the roll automatically and pilot the idea of polling day voter registration to ensure that every eligible voter is entitled to vote?

The Government sincerely believe in the principle of individual elector registration; we will not be returning to automatic voter registration. We want a register that is complete and accurate as possible. I am delighted that the Electoral Commission has demonstrated in a recent report that the accuracy of the register has risen from 87% to 91%.