The Electoral Commission has today published the last in its series of reports on the transition to individual electoral registration (IER) in Great Britain. This final report presents the findings from its study on the accuracy and completeness of the registers published in December 2015, at the end of the transition. The report also makes clear the commission’s gratitude for the hard work done by parliamentarians, civil servants and, most significantly, electoral registration teams around the country to deliver this historic change to our electoral system.
The commission’s study on the last household registers from 2014 found both accuracy and completeness to be 86% for the parliamentary registers, and 87% and 85% respectively for the local government registers. The new study on the December 2015 registers shows that the parliamentary registers were 85% complete and 91% accurate, while the local government registers were 84% complete and 91% accurate.
This means that, during the transition to IER between 10 June 2014 to 1 December 2015, the overall accuracy of the registers increased by an estimated four percentage points, and that completeness, while broadly appearing to be stable, has seen a decline of just under one percentage point. The commission estimates that, in December 2015, between 7.6 and 8.3 million eligible people were not correctly registered to vote.
These findings suggest that most, but not all, of the entries removed at the end of the transition to IER in December 2015 were inaccurate, largely due to people moving home, although not all of the improvement in accuracy can be attributed to the removal of entries at the end of the transition.
Parliament chose to bring the end of the transition—and hence the deletion of these entries—forward from December 2016 to December 2015. At the time, the commission recommended that the end of the transition should not be brought forward as it had no data on which to judge the nature of the entries that would be removed. In the absence of data, it also believed there was a risk that removing the entries ahead of the planned May 2016 polls would put the onus on individual voters to need to re-register rather than on EROs to check the accuracy of these entries.
These accuracy and completeness findings suggest that there was no notable effect on the completeness of the registers from the removal of these entries and that the main impact is likely to have been the improvement in accuracy.
The commission has identified issues which need addressing. On the 1 December registers, there has been a decline in completeness among nearly all the younger age groups, including an approximate nine percentage point decrease for those aged 18 to 19. There have also been declines among other groups associated with a more mobile population such as those renting from a private landlord.
These estimates of accuracy and completeness are for December 2015, a “snapshot” in the lifecycle of the registers. Historically, the December registers, published at the end of the canvass, were at their most accurate and complete.
However, evidence indicates that, under IER, people are increasingly likely to register to vote in the run-up to an electoral event compared to at other points during the year. The size of the electorate was larger in May 2015 and in June 2016 than it was in December 2015. At the EU referendum, the commission announced that there were 46,500,001 entries on the registers compared to the 43,478,635 that were on the equivalent 1 December 2015 registers, an increase of nearly 5% between December and June. This and other evidence indicate the completeness of the registers was likely to be higher in May 2015 and May/June 2016, when high-turnout polls took place, than it was in December 2015.
The commission is clear that more work is needed to improve the system of electoral registration and to ensure that as many voters as possible are registered.
It has made a number of recommendations for improving the system and has called on the Government to both respond and then move on these quickly. These recommendations include that Government should explore how the online system can be upgraded so that people can check whether they are registered and also begin a programme of feasibility studies to examine in more detail how future systemic changes could be delivered, with pilots conducted to support this. The commission has suggested that initial priorities for this should include exploring options for the automatic registration of 16 and 17-year-olds and a focus on ways to ensure home movers are less likely to drop off the register. These should be the start of a co-ordinated strategy to move to a system of more automatic registration that could also eventually lead to “election day registration”.
The commission welcomes the work currently being undertaken to introduce online registration for electors in Northern Ireland.
The commission is aware that legislation for the current review of UK parliamentary constituencies has already been approved by Parliament. It has, however, invited the UK and Scottish Parliaments to consider whether it would be more appropriate in future to base constituency and boundary reviews on electorate data taken from the registers used for elections, instead of a snapshot of the electoral registers from December.
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.