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Electoral System Could Be "Stretched To Breaking Point" Ahead Of Vote

The Levelling Up Committee has raised concerns about electoral registration systems (Alamy)

3 min read

Electoral registration systems could be “stretched to breaking point” ahead of the general election , according to the head of a cross-party committee of MPs.

A new report from the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities committee today suggests that millions of people could be at risk of disenfranchisement at the general election, due to the electoral registration system not being up to scratch. 

The report points to figures from the Electoral Commission that estimated as many as eight million people were missing from the electoral register and more “not registered accurately”. 

Committee chair and Labour MP Clive Betts has now said that “many registration offices are flagging” ahead of the election, expected later this year. 

He told PoliticsHome there is “a problem with the current system of registration”. 

“Because so many people don’t register, some of them then suddenly realise they aren’t registered when a general election is called,” Betts explained. 

Betts described the current set-up as “almost an event led system,” that means there is a “surge” in people trying to register ahead of polling day. 

Betts said that this combined with additional new rules that need to be taken into consideration around postal voting and overseas voting, “many registration offices are flagging”. 

“We don’t know whether they will be stretched to breaking point or stretched to near breaking point,” he added. 

Last year new voter ID rules were introduced in England for the first time, in a major shake-up of electoral rules. 

The system has faced criticism that it risks disenfranchising demographics that are less likely to have the acceptable forms of identification, such as a passport. 

The committee has now said that the list of acceptable IDs should be widened to include other forms such as emergency service passes and non-London travel passes. 

In the capital, the 60+ Oyster card can be used as a form of voter ID, but the 18+ Student Oyster cannot, due to application requirements. 

The voter ID rules were brought in as a result of the Election Act 2022, the same legislation which included changes to overseas voting meaning that any British citizen abroad can register to vote regardless of how long they’ve been living outside the UK, as well as changes to postal voting, designed to tighten up the rules. 

Among the other recommendations from the report is the suggestion that the Electoral Commission should undertake more research on ways to encourage people who usually do not vote, and make recommendations to Government on how to bring more people into democratic processes. 

The Electoral Commission welcomed the report. “We support the Committee’s call for a more automated registration system, which would bring significant benefits to voters and electoral administrators," a spokesperson said in a statement.

“Ahead of elections this year, the Commission is playing an important role in ensuring voters can overcome barriers to registration. Our new campaign calling on all voters to register to vote is now live, and we are providing resources to partners to help them reach groups we know are less likely to be registered.  

“We will carefully consider the Committee’s recommendations, and are ready to work with the UK’s governments and the electoral community to improve the electoral registration system.”

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “We are committed to ensuring everyone can have their say in our democracy.

“Individual electoral registration has stopped fraud and ensured a more accurate register. The 2019 general election was contested on the largest ever electoral register.

“As recommended by the independent Electoral Commission, we have introduced identification for voting in person across Great Britain, mirroring long-standing arrangements in Northern Ireland. 99.75 per cent of English voters in the polling station cast their vote successfully at local elections in May last year and councils will provide free identification certificates to anyone who asks.”

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