In 2020, the Government brought in changes to the way in which the annual electoral registration canvass is conducted, streamlining a previously outdated and cumbersome process. Reform of the annual canvass is part of the Government’s drive to create a more efficient registration system; make the process clear and simple for citizens; and give electoral registration officers (EROs) more discretion, while maintaining completeness and accuracy of the registers.
The success of the canvass reform is clearly demonstrated by research conducted by the Cabinet Office, which I have today published on gov.uk and deposited in the Library of both Houses. As part of the modern electoral registration programme, the first stage of evaluation of the reformed annual canvass was conducted in 2020 and 2021 through surveys and interviews with EROs and electoral administrators. This research focused in particular on citizen and ERO experiences of the canvass, as well as giving some indication of the impact of canvass reform on completeness and accuracy of the register, and efficiencies in the registration system.
This research clearly shows a major improvement over the pre-reform canvass, with an increase across the board in satisfaction of EROs and administrators in the reformed system, and largely positive impressions from participants regarding the changed processes.
This improvement in satisfaction demonstrates how the Government successfully work with the electoral sector to develop effective policies, and also support the sector with implementation of a programme of change.
The Government worked closely with stakeholders in the electoral sector during the development and implementation of this change, but while reform was welcomed by electoral administrators and the Electoral Commission, it also faced opposition, with some claiming the changes would disenfranchise some electors. These fears have proven to be unfounded, as is often the case with changes to electoral systems.
I note that concerns were previously expressed around the Government’s introduction of individual electoral registration in 2014, and with the decision to hold polls earlier this year during the covid-19 pandemic; both of which subsequently proved successful. Evidence has shown that the individual system drives up registration figures and enhances the accuracy of the registers, and the independent Electoral Commission’s evaluation of the May 21 polls showed that people had high levels of satisfaction with the polls and that the challenges of covid-19 did not stop voters taking part.
Along with the previous introduction of individual electoral registration and the measures in the Elections Bill, this reform of the annual canvass is a further example of the improvements that the Government are making to registration and elections in the UK. This Government are committed to ensuring our democracy is secure, fair, modern and transparent and our electoral system is kept up to date for our age.