Democracy is one of the greatest tools we have to improve our communities. But for it to work properly, the state needs to play its part to ensure everyone who is eligible to vote is registered.
That’s why I am presenting the Automatic Voter Registration Bill. The current problem is less getting people to register, and more just keeping them on the register.
As shocking research has this week shown, as a result of the government’s move to Individual Voter Registration, costing a total of £108m, about 800,000 people have dropped off the electoral register. Nationally, this means that 1.8% have been deleted from the register nationally, but areas like Canterbury have seen a staggering 13% drop.
This truly undermines the composition of our electorate, and even the democratic process itself.
Such a process of disenfranchisement is wholly unacceptable, and experience shows that it is marginalised groups that suffer the most as a result, including those from ethnic minorities, those who are poorer and those who are disabled. For instance, research shows that while pensioners in the shires who own their own home have a 90% chance of being on the electoral register, a young man from an ethnic minority background in private rented accommodation in a city has a less than 10% chance of being registered.
My Bill proposes a cheaper, simpler and more effective method of automatic electoral registration, which will save time and money in the long run, and will also serve as a more effective democratic tool.
What this means is that data from government institutions such as HMRC, the DWP and other public bodies will be compiled to produce a single civic registry which will be automatically updated to reflect a voter’s change of address. Taking its lead from the highly effective Australian system, this new process would ensure a more accurate register, making registration as easy as possible for citizens.
The Bill places a responsibility upon the state to do everything in its power to ensure that the electoral database is as full and as complete a civic register as it can be.
I believe that ensuring the electoral register is as full as it can possibly be should be a non-partisan issue. And I am delighted that it reflects moves in Greater Manchester, which is at present working with the Cabinet Office to generate legislation to enact automatic registration.
I hope that, taken in sum, these developments, together with my Bill, will herald a new chapter in our strong democratic record.
Siobhain McDonagh is the Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden