Probably like most people, I didn’t even notice the changes when they came in; I’m aware of them now, but only because I’m paying attention. A lot aren’t. I’m talking registering to vote. The law tells us we can all do it once we’re 18 – as long as we’re not being detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, of course. So why is it not as straightforward as it once seemed? I doubt the 1.5 million potential voters to have vanished from the electoral roll since the changes came into effect could answer that question. They disappeared because their identities couldn’t be verified via council tax and social security records on the DWP database, initially placing their automatic transference to the new register in stasis; they remained on the register until December and now they’ve gone.
Changes to the way in which the electorate register for the right to vote could reduce the numbers gaining access to the polling booth on June 23, apparently. The PM was urging ‘yoof’ to register and cast their vote this week, yet it is the abolition of the old registration system which he was instrumental in abolishing that could leave many young people out in the cold (and it probably will be cold on June 23, going by our summer climes). Individual Electoral Registration became law two years ago, twelve months before the last General Election. Whereas the previous pattern was for the head of a household to register all residents eligible to vote, with a similar process at universities, where all students would be listed together, the onus being on the individual to register alone means those people who don’t necessarily stay rigid in one place – renting tenants and students alike – are less likely to have their names down on the electoral roll.
Are these potential lost voters more likely to vote Brexit? Possibly. Are these potential lost voters more likely to vote Tory? Doubtfully. But the changes made by the previous Tory-dominated administration could have a far wider-reaching impact on voting than what happens in the EU Referendum.
The ongoing plan to bring in electoral boundary changes, reducing the number of constituencies in the process, is a plan that will base its redrawing of the map on the geography of the electorate, using the list of voters who have registered since the IER was introduced in 2014. With the majority of those registered unlikely to include serial wanderers or students, this means the boundary changes will be heavily favoured towards the traditional, stable and affluent Tory fan-base residing in rural heartlands rather than densely-populated urban areas with an ever-changing population. This imbalance gives the Tories a distinct advantage which, let’s face it, they’d obviously be foolish not to want.
When the Individual Electoral Registration became law, it was theoretically introduced to reduce the prospect of electoral fraud, but a spokesman for the Electoral Reform Society claimed the change could provoke a decline in electoral registration, ‘looking at registration rates in the 50% region’. When the new rules had been in place for a year, the 2015 General Election took place and 186,000 absent voters applied to register after the deadline. There seems to be a strong likelihood the same thing could happen again come the Referendum. How that will affect the outcome remains to be seen – or possibly Remains to be seen.
I suppose it would easy for some belonging to older generations, those for whom voting as a virtual duty was in the blood, to say that those who haven’t registered to vote have only themselves to blame. Fair point. But that implies politics figures as highly in daily discourse amongst the under-45s as it is prone to amongst the over-45s; and by and large, it doesn’t. It’s only when a media bombardment comes around every four or five years that those who don’t pay constant attention realise something is happening. We’ve been rather spoilt over the last couple of years: first the Scottish Independence Referendum, then the General Election and now a Referendum everyone in the UK can actually participate in, so anyone who hasn’t registered has no real excuse, right? Maybe; but wouldn’t it be easier if we could just turn up at the polling station with some ID and get on with it? We have to provide ID for everything else now; it should be sufficient. We’re all supposed to be on file these days, our every move monitored and tracked; so why not just endorse the myth that every free man and woman over 18 can vote and dispense with electoral registration altogether? The new system was allegedly intended to lessen the risk of fraud; it might well do that, but it doesn’t appear to be working where it really matters.
The deadline for registration re the EU Referendum is June 7; despite the fact that Mr Cameron claims a million have registered since the start of the campaign, there could be thousands who miss the deadline and won’t be able to have their say. Will they be back on the register in time for the next General Election? The way things have been going since the Individual Electoral Registration was introduced, there’s a strong possibility they won’t be.
© The Editor