Sunday, 1 September 2013

Councils selling electoral registers - the truth is not what the Daily Mail would have you believe

Tomorrow's Daily Mail leads with the splash headline:
"Sold for £5 - your personal details"
The story sets out the details of something that has long been the case - that councils are forced to sell copies of the electoral register to anyone who pays the appropriate (low) fee. All of this is covered by the law and local authorities have no say over the sales or the amount charged.

When councils ask for your personal details to compile the electoral register, the form contains a box which you can tick if you do not want your details to appear on the edited version which is made available for sale. Again, this form is prescribed by law and we cannot alter it. The only way to make more information about the consequences of not ticking the box available would be to spend more money on extra awareness campaigns. Whilst I would like more people to be aware of the edited register, I can't see that these information campaigns deserve money as a higher priority than, say, schools or adult care.

My personal view is to agree with Big Brother Watch who compiled this report. I think that the electoral register should be compiled for the management of elections only and not to enable junk mail companies to bombard my letterbox. Even with the 'edited' version and ability to opt out, the use of the register by junk mail companies is a disincentive to register and therefore disenfranchises people.
But the law is that that two versions of the register will be compiled by councils like Cornwall and we have to comply with it. The full register may only be used for limited purposes and every elector has the right to opt out of the edited version that is made available for sale to businesses. It is unfair to put the blame for sales of the register (and the subsequent junk mail that results) on Cornwall Council. We are only following the law in this respect.

So the true version of the Daily Mail front page should read:
"Councils obey the law"
But that's not going to sell many papers, is it?

UPDATE: The WMN is also running the story.

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