Wednesday, 29 February 2012

How do we keep everyone on the electoral register?

The proposed move to individual electoral registration throws up a number of challenges - but it is also a move that is being done for the right reason, to lessen the chance of our elections being tainted by fraud.

A few years ago, I was a commentator for the BBC and others during the Birmingham vote fraud scandal when various councillors and others were convicted of running fraud factories. The move to individual voter registration was one of the results. It means that election officials will gather personal identifiers - signatures and so on - which can be used to check that you are actually who you say you are when you cast your ballot.

But individual registration also presents some significant challenges. Whereas one person in each household used to be able to register everyone, each individual will have to fill in a form themselves from the 2014 annual canvass. Experience suggests that young people, people with low literacy and people who rent their homes either from the council or privately will be likely to have lower registration rates.

As chair of Cornwall's Electoral Review Panel, yesterday I met with the lead officer on this project to discuss what could be done to pre-empt the move to individual registration. I don't want to see us suffer a large drop in registration rates and have to play catch up. So we need to be working now with colleges and schools, with social and private landlords and with the council's own housing department to think about how we can make sure everyone is registered.

I am also asking the Council to reach out to local voluntary and community groups, to businesses and to the public to ask for their ideas for how we can make sure everyone who is entitled to be is on the electoral register. As ever with council services, budgets are tight. But I am sure that there are people out there who can come up with ideas of reaching large groups of people at risk of not registering with very cheap communication methods.

If you have any thoughts on this, please get in touch.

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