Latest Event Updates
I gave a paper at the Political Studies Association Annual Conference in Manchester last week. The paper was on the effects of centralising electoral management. You can download the paper here. The paper argued:
Concerns about the quality of electoral management have been raised in many established democracies. The centralisation of electoral management has often been proposed to avoid problems resulting from ‘localism’. However, there is no research on the effects that such centralisation might have in practice. This paper identifies the effects of measures introduced by the UK Electoral Commission to centralise management in two referendums. Semi-structured interviews were used with those who devised the policy instrument and those who were subject to it. The introduction of ‘command and control’ directions from the centre had some predicted positive and some negative outcomes. However, an unpredicted finding was the decline of staff morale and souring of relations amongst stakeholder organisations. The paper therefore argues that the process of making major organisational changes can make the performance of electoral management boards unpredictable and this can have unintended consequences for electoral integrity.
I gave oral evidence to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee’s inquiry into Voter Engagement yesterday. The Committee is concerned about levels of voter registration and turnout in the UK. The inquiry is timely because voter engagement is a pressing problem for British elections and democracy. One in five people are now missing from the electoral register and less than 15 per cent cast a ballot at the Police and Crime Commissioner elections in 2012.
There are many reasons why voter turnout and registration levels have dropped. My research shows, however, that making the electoral process more convenient for citizens, and investing in electoral services could make a real difference to levels of registration and voter turnout.
The committee should therefore recommend allowing citizens to register on the day of election, give them the opportunity to register when they come into contact with other government services and keep Internet voting under review.
Richard Mawrey QC claimed yesterday that postal voting was ‘not viable’ in the UK yesterday.
Earlier in the month the Labour Party suggested that we should consider election-day registration in the UK. This is something that I have thought would make a good evidence based policy. This week I have published my thoughts on Eastminster and the Democratic Audit this proposal.
You can also view my evidence to the parliamentary select committee that is considering how to increase UK voter engagement.
Voter registration is a problem in the UK. Approximately one in five citizens are not on the electoral register. When it is reported that only 65% of registered people voted at the 2010 general election, we forget those people who are not on the register in the first place.
The Guardian is today reporting that Labour is looking to respond to this problem with three promises:
Labour is looking at bringing in a US-style system of allowing voters to register on election day….
….Labour will also ensure people are encouraged to sign up to vote every time they come into contact with a government services, including the DVLA, Passport Office, universities, schools, colleges, blood donation, council tax payment and parking permit applications….
….Labour will pull the plug on individual voter registration if it leads to a large decline in democratic participation
I will write more in a fresh blog soon. However, to give away the ending of the story, you might be interested in what I wrote in May 2012 on the Electoral Reform Society and LSE blog (and many later posts since), after my research had shown that individual electoral registration was likely to lead to a decline in registration.
Bite The Ballot have made Wednesday 5th February 2014 National Voter Registration Day.
This is a great initiative. There have been citizen-led projects to increase voter registration in the USA for decades. The UK is only now catching onto the importance of this topic.
Here are five things you might may not know about voter registration in the UK.
- Registration levels are getting lower. A recent piece of research from the Electoral Commission estimated that only 82% of people were registered in 2011. This compares with rates of 91-93% in the 1990s.
- It is lower amongst some groups. Research has identified it as being lower amongst the younger, Black and Minority Ethnic communities and those who privately rent.
- It is lower than many other countries. Comparisons with other countries are difficult because of poor data quality. A high registration rate might also result from duplicates or inaccuracies. For example, one estimate put the registration in the Czech Republic at over 120%, which suggests other problems with the quality of the register. But the UK still lags behind many other countries.
- Things might get worse. We will soon be required to register individually and provide a National Insurance number, under changes planned by the government. My research has suggested that this will reduce registration rates further. This decline is likely to hit students, the young and geographically mobile the most (see: here for the full piece).
- There are things that we can do. The government has invested resources into a scheme called ‘data-matching’ to register people whose identity can be confirmed using other government records. This is a really important step in stopping registration rates falling further. However, more can be done such as thinking about election-day registration and holding days and events to focus the media and public on registration, just like today.
Well done Bite the Ballot.