Individual registration

Lord Norton

ballot_box_teaser_66x49As regular readers will know, I have long supported individual electoral registration.  It provides for far greater security than the existing arrangements.   This is also the view taken by the Electoral Commission and, according to survey data produced by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, most of the public as well. 

I am delighted that the Government have now accepted the case for individual registration and are making provision for its phased introduction under the Elections and Political Parties Bill presently going through Parliament.  

All we need to do now is tighten up on who can have access to the electoral register – the full one and not just the edited version.

13 comments for “Individual registration

  1. 04/03/2009 at 9:15 am

    I’ve tried to find out more about Individual Voter Registration. From what I’ve just found, I understand that you will need to provide your National Insurance number, date of birth and other details (and have proof of ID at the polling booth).

    However, there are assertions that it would mean that people aren’t at the mercy of the “head of the household”. That bit I cannot understand. How does the system improve that?

  2. Croft
    04/03/2009 at 11:59 am

    At present the head of the household fills in a form saying who at the property is eligible to vote. Couple that with postal voting and you have two problems: either the head can voted as many times as people resident denying others the vote or you can and have had purely fictitious voters added with no meaningful checks.

    The whole thing is a scandal which has been known about for a long time and made much worse by an obsession for postal voting. The government has had to be dragged kicking and screaming to this reform.

    What chance, if any, is there of the Lord’s overturning the midnight changes to hide MPs addresses? After the second homes allowances scandals the arrogance of this move is breathtaking.

  3. ladytizzy
    04/03/2009 at 3:51 pm

    The proposed verification is no different from that a new employee has had to provide employers since May 2004, a Home Office edict after the deaths of 18 cockle pickles in Morecambe a few months before.

    Personally, I do not want the electoral register published or made available to anyone except to bona fide agents during an election process. Else, it should be renamed.

  4. 04/03/2009 at 3:53 pm

    Why do we need to tighten up who can have access to the electoral register? Until recent years, the document – then only in hard copy form, of course – was publicly accessible in the local library. This was part and parcel of an honest, transparent system. Insofar as I can tell, the majority still have their names and addresses in the local phone book, and thus presumably have no fear of people knowing where they live.

    The state is monopolising more and more information and simultaneously this information is becoming more and more opaque, Freedom of Information Act notwithstanding.

  5. 05/03/2009 at 12:14 am

    @stephenpaterson: the electoral register is still available for viewing at reference libraries. What people don’t want is their details made available for junk mailers and scammers to send yet more rubbish every day. The thought of this was putting many people off registering to vote, which is why the “edited register” was brought in. Now the situation is ridiculous: councils hate having to compile the edited register because they make no money from it, and who in their right mind would choose to be added to a list that brings no benefit other than junk mail, if it wasn’t “opt-out”. The edited register should be scrapped, and the register only made available for genuine electoral reasons. It can still be open for viewing at the library – it’s already an offence to use information from the full register for commercial purposes, so that provision can continue.

    @Croft: there is also the issue of shared houses, which are widespread now that people can’t afford to buy or rent. Who fills in the form? What happens if one person refuses to go on the register? Whoever completes the form is committing an offence if they don’t write their housemate’s name down. Why should this be, when they are not related and don’t live together as a family unit? Individual registration is much fairer: each adult takes responsibility for meeting his or her own obligations.

  6. Frank Wynerth Summers III
    05/03/2009 at 1:50 am

    I would just like to point out that if the spirit of international constitutional study in Lords and Parliament extends to America we actually have (slightly more than) 50 systems of individual registration which might offer at least some valuable distilled experience to enrich this law as it is applied. They vary very considerably.

  7. 05/03/2009 at 6:07 pm

    I see the advantages of individual registration, but…

    You have to present ID at the polling station. What happens if you do not have ID? ID is, in effect, a poll tax.

    Of course, the government can wrap this all in a lovely package and use it to push forward the ID Card scheme. While we have to pay for those too, at least everyone will have them, and they come with the associated benefits of having all our personal information stored in a central database which is certified as both secure and accurate by a government with a sterling IT success rate. Oh, wait…

    It really does cause despair when I realise that my default position is now conservatism (small c) through simple concern of government incompetence.

  8. 05/03/2009 at 10:06 pm

    I don’t really see why individual registration means having to present ID at a polling station. They may be in the same Bill at present, but the two issues are separate. You could have individual registration for each voter with no ID requirement, just as you could be required to show ID at polling stations while keeping the current system of registration.

  9. lordnorton
    06/03/2009 at 2:07 pm

    hifranc: As Croft explains, the problem is with the ‘head of the household’ having to fill in the form. In a lot of residences, this can cause problems of the sort mentioned by Jonathan. I also agree with Croft’s observation on postal voting. There has been such pressure to increase voter turnout, or not do anything that might reduce it (like asking voters to prove who they are), that the security of the ballot has been compromised. As former MP George Cunningham has variously argued, providing for all-postal voting completely undermines the security afforded by the polling booth. As I pointed out in one debate, the polling booth affords privacy, the living room does not.

    On the electoral register, I am completely with ladytizzy and Jonathan on this. One is required by law to provide personal details. Stephenpaterson: most people may have their names in the ‘phone book, but you can choose not to have your name in the ‘phone book. The electoral register is a snooper’s delight. You can find out who is living on their own, who is sharing a house with who – details you cannot glean from the ‘phone book. I don’t see why people should be required by law to make available details of their living arrangements for public consumption when, quite frankly, those arrangements are no concern of other members of the public. They may be of legitimate interest, in certain circumstances, to particular public bodies, ib which case they should be permitted access, but I am all for drawing the limitations as tightly as possible.

    McDuff: On individual registration, I agree with Jonathan. There is not necessarily a case for presenting ID, and certainly not in the form of an ID card. One means of ensuring it is the person registered is to utilise signatures. With individual registration, each person will sign their own registration form; at the moment, it is only the head of household who signs. One can then sign when one goes to vote or return a postal ballot.

  10. Croft
    06/03/2009 at 2:33 pm

    I object to providing an ID card or passport to vote because that is a tax on voting (combine the costs of both cards + renewal each 10 years and it soon adds up) I have no objection to bringing something freely provided e.g. NI/NHS card/#, in addition to signing and having that verified.

    Perhaps Lord Norton may care to comment, in many other countries where there is a dispute or query on a voters ID you can cast a provisional ballot while you verify your bona fides.

    Personally I have no objection to postal voting where the person is elderly, disabled, abroad or otherwise genuinely incapable of voting in person. However, I think that the risk of fraud will always be higher in any system that allows postal voting so it should be limited as far as is fair.

  11. 06/03/2009 at 4:54 pm

    It was a while ago that I read the detailed report by the late Lord Jenkins advocating AV+, but as I remember it, the ‘top-up members’ that were envisaged would have had much in common with the one-time county ‘shire’ members, representing a wider area, and one of the great boons of AV plus was that very nearly everyone would be represented in Parliament by someone of the party of their choosing at one or other level.

    Many countries in Europe run very successfully with coalitions. It is true, of course, that people don’t vote for coalitions, but then, would people willingly vote for every sentence in every manifesto of the party of their choosing? I would suggest very few intelligent voters vote without any reservations.

    No post-war Government has been elected with as much as 50% of the vote, and the trend has been generally down during my lifetime. Sir Anthony Eden’s Conservatives managed 49%. Baroness Thatcher and Tony Blair never came near that for all their three figure majorities.

    And all this is on top of a declining turnout, with now just about 60% voting. So the Brown Government in 2005 received the support of just over a third (35.3%) of the 61.3% percent of the electorate who turned out. And of course, even the electorate itself does not represent all the adults who live here.

    Of course, the bulk of members of the main parties elected within the present system are very happy with it. But then, to paraphrase Mandy Rice-Davies, they would say that, wouldn’t they?

    Anyway, I’ve hogged this thread far too much with thoughts on the electoral system. I’m sure the Westminster System is a lot more than the electoral system and I very much look forward to your new posting.

  12. 07/03/2009 at 6:38 am

    The thing that confuses me is that, at the moment, a letter is sent to every household to find out who’s there. How would an individual voter registration system work? Would everybody who’s listed on the electoral roll be invited to register (which still suffers from the old system as the head of the household may not have registered some people)? Would everyone have go to a particular place to register? How about those who couldn’t make it?

  13. lordnorton
    11/03/2009 at 1:34 pm

    hifranc: I think it likely that electoral registration officers will indeed write to every individual already in the register. The electoral registration officers already have a responsibility to try to identify anyone not included and may make visits to try to locate people who should be included. I presume the changes, which will be phased in, will be accompanied by a publicity campaign. Registration will presumably continue to be by post.

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