The government today published the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill, which, if passed, will tackle electoral fraud by speeding up the introduction of individual electoral registration and modernise the system of voter registration. The Bill includes the government’s plans for individual electoral registration, which would end the practice of the head of a household being responsible for registering everyone in a property.
Currently, the head of a household registers everyone who lives at the same address. Under the system of individual registration, everyone would register separately, each providing their own unique identifiers, like National Insurance number and date of birth, so their information can be verified.
The new registration system is due to be in place by the end of 2015. During 2014, voters would be transferred to the new system of registration by matching data on the current electoral register with other public records, so around 2 thirds would not have to take any action in order to remain on the electoral register.
Under the data matching process, an elector’s name and address would be compared against other public databases. If an individual’s details match then they will not have to take any action to remain on the register. Where electors details cannot be confirmed, individuals will be personally invited to register under the new system. This will help ensure that we have an electoral register which is as accurate and complete as possible.
The new Bill also paves the way for online registration, which would make it more convenient for individuals to ensure they are registered to vote.
Over the past year, the government’s proposals have been subject to extensive consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny.
Under the current system, failure to respond to a household canvass or not provide information to an Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) is a criminal offence punishable by a £1000 fine and which leaves you with a criminal record. The government does not propose any extension of the existing offence. Instead, the Bill proposes a lesser civil offence, more like a parking fine, where an individual fails to make an application to register to vote. This will provide appropriate encouragement for people to do their civic duty and register to vote. However, it is not our intention to see large numbers of people fined, and so there will be safeguards in place to ensure that EROs are required to take specific steps to encourage an application and only those who refuse repeated invitations can be fined.
Mark Harper, Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform, said:
We must do everything we can to minimise the risk of fraud and increase trust in our electoral system, while encouraging as many eligible voters as possible to get registered to vote.
Alongside the measures for online registration and to improve the administration of elections, I am confident that the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill will create a fair, robust and efficient system, fit to face the challenges of the 21st century.
As well as preparation for individual electoral registration, there are also provisions in the Bill to increase voter participation, further improve the integrity of our electoral system and ensure that the process underpinning our elections is more robust. The electoral timetable for UK Parliamentary elections will be extended, benefiting postal voters, in particular those overseas and service personnel based abroad, by allowing them more time to receive and return their postal vote.
Notes to editors
The Bill is published today, and is announced by a Written Ministerial Statement from the Deputy Prime Minister.
The policies in the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill are:
* a major change to our system of electoral registration - Individual Electoral Registration (IER) - requiring electors to register individually rather than by household
* IER would be a requirement for any new registrations and for anyone who wants to vote by post or proxy from 2014
* creating a legislative framework to allow alternative channels for registration, such as online registration
* providing for the use of data matching to verify applications, check existing entries in registers and find individuals who do not currently appear on the register
* introducing a civil penalty for those who fail to make an application when required to do so by an Electoral Registration Officer
* extending the electoral timetable for UK Parliamentary elections
* altering the timing of polling place reviews to ensure that reviews are aligned with the 5-yearly cycles of elections
* allowing a jointly-nominated candidate to use an emblem on their ballot paper
* removing the automatic postponement of Parish and Community Council elections to allow combination with other elections
* enabling regulations to be made to place Electoral Registration Officers under a duty to inform electors whose postal votes have been rejected because the postal vote identifiers, for example their signature, did not match those stored on record for that elector
* allowing Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) to enter polling stations as Police Constables can currently
* giving the Secretary of State or Lord President of the Council the power to withhold or reduce a Returning Officer’s fee for reasons of poor performance upon a recommendation from the Electoral Commission
The new system of IER: Following the transition to IER people will only get onto the register by making an individual application to register. A household form will remain (as will the offence) but returning this form will not lead to registration. An individual will have to make a new individual application to register, in doing so providing personal information (eg date of birth and National Insurance number) that registration officers will verify to establish that the person is genuine. Registration officers will encourage new applications by inviting people to register when they become aware of their existence (through the household form or other means). Once an individual is registered under IER they will not have to make another application to register until they move address.