Dangers remain with electoral registration changes: Norwich and Cambridge could be amongst the most affected areas

The government is planning to introduce individual electoral registration (IER) in June 2014.  A new report and data released from the Electoral Commission suggests its implementation still poses a risk for British democracy.

My earlier research on the likely effects of IER suggested that this would:

  • improve confidence in elections, but
  • result in a considerable decline in levels of electoral registration, a concern when electoral registration levels are already low in the UK.  This would affect particular groups such as students, the mobile and young disproportionately.
  • lead to a considerable increase in the costs of running UK elections.  
  • lead to issues with data management and a need for staff training

The government is trying to prevent a decline though ‘data-matching’ – use the government’s existing records such as the DWP database to improve re-register people automatically.  A new report from the Electoral Commission has said that plans to implement IER are ‘on track’ but there remains risks:

  • 52% of electoral officials are concerned that they will not have enough money to implement data-matching effectively
  • a system for allowing online registration has not been fully tested yet
  • although re-registration rates were higher than last thought, there are uneven regional effects ranging from 46.9% in Kensington and Chelsea to 86.4%.  ‘Students, young adults and private renters’ are also less likely to be re-registered.  
Which areas are most affected?
I had a quick look at some of the Electoral Commission’s data on which areas were the most and least affected.  What percentage of people are on the electoral register but cannot be matched against the DWP database?  In my own local area of the East of England, the local authorities most/least affected are:
Local Authority / Percentage of registered electorate that could not be matched
Cambridge 36.7%  (33,205 people)
Norwich 26.2% (26,941 people)
Watford 22.3%
Luton 20.6%
Colchester 21.1%
Tendering 13.0%
Broadland 13.8%
Castle Point 13.0%
Rochford 12.8%

The breakdown by wards gives us more detail and shows how students are a key group who might be affected.  Amongst the highest wards were:

Market (Cambridge) 75.2% (4813 people)
Wivenhoe Cross (Colchester) 55.2% (3757 people)
University (Norwich) 46.5% (3521 people)

Implementation is everything when it comes to government policy and it is no different with elections.  There needs to be adequate funding available for electoral officials in local government if British elections are not to be adversely affected.  These reforms come at a time when budgets are already being squeezed because of public spending cuts and the number of elections that held is increasing.

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