The growing electoral registration crisis

Polling station

Toby James explains how new data from the ONS further reveals the depth of the electoral registration crisis.

Polling station
Polling station
Data from the Office of National Statistics today revealed that the parliamentary electoral register, that will be used in the forthcoming EU referendum, has seen a dramatic fall.

The parliamentary register on 1 December 2015 now stands at 44,722,004. This is a fall of over 1.4 million names since the 1 December 2013 register – the last identically timed register before individual electoral registration was introduced (46,139,940).

The numbers are especially depressing for attainers (16- and 17-year-olds who will turn 18 during the period in which the register is in force). The 1 December 2015 register puts the number at 281,535. In 1 December 2013 this was 471,295. This is a fall of 189,760. Put another way, over 40% of our next generation of voters have been removed from the electoral roll.

This drop comes in spite of the introduction of online voter registration. It reaffirms academic predictions grounded in the experience of practitioners, presented to Parliament in 2011, that requiring all citizens to register individually and asking them to provide their national insurance number would reduce levels of electoral registration.

It is vital that the Government – and all political parties – think beyond partisan lines, by taking urgent measures to address the problem. Best practice can drawn from academic research, innovations from around the world, electoral administrators and those involved in running voter outreach campaigns.

A recent letter published in The Times mapped out a number of voter registration reforms that could be considered.

Toby James is a Senior Lecturer at the University of East Anglia and Fellow to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Democratic Participation.

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