Jo Stevens MP: Automatic Electoral Registration would extend the franchise to 4.5 million voters
The current system also places a burden on already over-stretched and underfunded local authorities to run an annual canvass, says Jo Stevens MP.
Voting for the people who represent you is one of the key fundamental rights of citizens in a democracy. Indeed, it’s often something we take for granted in this country. There is, however, a problem with our current system. Millions of people are missing out on having their say.
Within the current procedure for voter registration, all eligible voters must pro-actively register with their local electoral registration office, and then re-register if they move address, even if it’s within the same electoral area.
Because of this bureaucratic system, some 4.5 million people are missing from the electoral register across the UK.
In addition to making it difficult for individuals, the current system also places a burden on already over-stretched and underfunded local authorities to run an annual canvass to find missing voters.
We know that those missing from the register are more likely to be young or from minority ethnic backgrounds.
This is clearly unacceptable, and means particular groups of people are getting less of a say at the ballot box.
At the 2015 General Election, 12,800 people were turned away from polling stations. They wanted to vote but were unable to vote because they weren’t on the register. Earlier this year in June’s General Election that figure was over 10,000. Taking into account the nature of the most marginal seats, that number of votes is enough to swing an election result.
So can any of us be satisfied that the current system is good enough when what’s at stake is the running of our country?
Today I’ll propose a Bill to make it easier for people – the Automatic Electoral Registration (No 2) Bill. My Bill would see everyone automatically added to the electoral register when they are issued with a National Insurance number and, for people already over the age of 16, through existing data held by government departments like HMRC and the DVLA.
This sort of practical solution is exactly what we need to fully enfranchise every eligible voter so they can have their say.
In the age of big data and ‘digital by default’ the government has a duty to make use of the solutions available in order to ensure that the electoral register is as complete as possible.
There are examples from around the world of successful implementation of automatic registration systems. In Canada electoral information is continually updated from government data including that held by the tax collection agency.
In Chile a move to automatic registration in 2013 has seen over 4.5million voters added to the nation’s electoral register, most of them under the age of 30.
Closer to home, automatic systems are also in place in Denmark, Germany, Italy and Sweden.
I’m bringing this Bill to the House on behalf of everyone who is disenfranchised by an unnecessarily bureaucratic and complex system. We all deserve to have our say about who represents us.
An automatic voter registration system in the UK is long overdue. There are many countries around the world who have existing, and effective, systems in place. It’s about time we caught up.
Jo Stevens is the Labour Member of Parliament for Cardiff Central