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Tory electoral reform – the case of the vanishing voters

This article is over 5 years, 4 months old
Issue 2522
A sign for a polling station in Britain - but some people will no longer be able to vote
A sign for a polling station in Britain – but some people will no longer be able to vote (Pic: Paul Albertella/flickr)

Hundreds of thousands of people have vanished from Britain’s electoral registers—and you’re more likely to be among them if you’re young or poor.

The scandal came to the fore last week with Tory plans to change constituency boundaries. The changes are based on the number of eligible voters in each area.

But the Tories have fiddled the figures with a new voting system, Individual Electoral Registration (IER).

Conveniently, IER will make it easier for the Tories to win elections as it removed voters from groups less likely to vote for them.

Nearly 800,000 people were removed from the registers last December as IER was completed. Some 600,000 had vanished in the 12 months before.

The Tories claimed IER would remove inaccurate data. But the Electoral Commission (EC) has accepted that “not all of the entries removed were inaccurate”.

The EC found statistically significant falls in registration between 2014, when the last registers under the old system were produced, and December 2015.

An EC report published this year said these falls affected younger age groups, private renters and people who had recently moved house.


The report looked at the accuracy of the registers—whether there are fraudulent entries—and “completeness”—whether everyone eligible is included. It analysed the registers against the results of house to house surveys.

The local government register was missing an estimated 16 percent of eligible voters. And 15 percent were missing from the parliamentary register—it was “85 percent complete”.

Older people and home owners are more likely to be registered than the young and renters.

The IER has made this divide bigger. Just 65 percent of 18-19 year olds are on the registers, a drop of 9 percent since 2014.

The EC accepts the true decline could be much larger.Just 27 percent of people who have lived at their address for up to a year are registered—down from 40 percent.

Registration among private renters fell from 63 percent to 57 percent.

Richer people are more likely to be registered than poor people—88 percent of “ABs” compared to 83 percent of “C1s”. And C1s saw a significant drop of 2 percent since 2014.

The EC concluded that “between 7.8 and 8.3 million people were not correctly registered in December 2015”.

How the new system works

Individual Electoral Registration (IER) was introduced between June and September 2014. Under the old system, one person in each household confirmed the household’s eligible voters.

lIER means individuals register themselves. Details are checked against government data. If the data doesn’t match, for instance due to a change of address, the voter would have to provide extra evidence.

lThe original deadline for providing this was December 2016. The Tories brought it forward to December last year. At that time, nearly 800,000 voters were removed from the registers.


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