Voter Registration Bill

Lord Roberts

Last week, I was encouraged to see more political parties coming around to the (long-held Liberal Democrat) view that we need to make voter registration easier, accessible and engaging, and allow young people to register from an early age. Only then can we seek to inspire future generations to take a stake in democracy and truly make ‘politics’ open to all citizens.

To this end, today is the formal first reading of my Voter Registration Bill in the House of Lords. I very much hope that Members from all parties (and none) welcome and support its aims.

As honorary President of the non-partisan movement, Bite The Ballot – a fantastic organisation seeking to empower young voters – I know just how enthusiastic young people are about political issues when they are taught about the power they hold at the ballot box. It is this simple premise that forms the basis of my Voter Registration Bill, which has two parts. The first concerns the sharing of information between government bodies and electoral registration officers; the second concerns the duties of electoral registration officers.

The Bill will authorise electoral registration officers to ‘fill in the gaps’ on the register using information (e.g. dates of birth and addresses) already held by bodies such as the Passport Office, DVLA and the NHS. Crucially, this will be an opt-in process and information will only be shared with electoral administrators with a person’s consent. A similar initiative was introduced in the U.S.A. in 1993 – yes, twenty years ago! – via the National Voter Registration Act. It expanded voting rights and empowered more people from lower-income backgrounds to join the register.

With the transition from household to individual electoral registration (IER) this summer, it is vital that we introduce these changes now in order to prevent the feared mass ‘drop-off’ of certain groups from the Register. Peers debated this in May, and we’ll continue to press the Government in this Session.

In Northern Ireland, the number of registered young people plummeted after the transition to IER and reforms that heralded the ‘Schools Initiative’ were brought in to rectify the situation. The ‘Initiative’ was responsible for registering 50% of young people in Northern Ireland between 2008-12: according to the Chief Electoral Officer, it’s been “instrumental” to adding young voters to the roll.

Sadly in the UK, even before the move to IER, it’s been estimated that only 55% of the 6.7 million 17-24 year olds are registered. Of that number, only 24% are, today, ‘certain to vote’.

The statistics paint a worrying picture, but the solution is simple. Bite The Ballot’s resources make registration and democracy education simple and engaging; the two sides of the coin when it comes to the youth vote. Almost always, by the end of a ‘BTB’ school session, all students are ready to register; even if they were initially judgemental of politics and politicians.

This, I suggest, is something electoral registration officers should be doing as standard. It’s a beautifully simple system that ensures our young people start their democratic journeys in the best possible way: with the desire to learn more about making informed choices on polling day. That’s why the second part of the Bill requires electoral registration officers to take active steps to increase the number of people registered from under-represented groups, including organising at least one voter engagement session per year, per school or college in her area of responsibility.

This Bill is the first step in tackling our youth democracy crisis. We need to equip electoral registration officers with the right tools to make our democracy as strong as possible. This Bill, I suggest, is a leap in the right direction and I very much hope that the Government give it a fair hearing in this Parliamentary Session.

Not to do so will only fuel further resentment of decision-makers amongst future generations, making our bad situation, even worse.

7 comments for “Voter Registration Bill

  1. Howell of Trent Valley
    11/06/2014 at 7:00 am

    Voting using ipads,mobile phones and personal computers would be the one way of making it easier for young, and all, people to vote.
    There are enough secret passwords used to feed an army of spies, which surely makes it safe enough to use for one democratic vote!

    Nobody suggests it which is why this lib dem ploy so successfully lost, for electoral reform, by Mr Clegg, is no more than a lib dem gimmick.

  2. maude elwes
    11/06/2014 at 8:53 am

    Desperately seeking to make voting easier means what exactly? How do you plan to do this? What legislation would you want to bring forward to enable this desire for change? Shouldn’t you be worried about how the fraudulent votes in certain areas are growing to the extent we are now even more exposed to rigged results than ever?

    And trying to get easier registration and more young people, barely literate on leaving school in this country, along with their gross inexperience is another sign of a failing group frantically seeking any way it can to keep itself from the tipping ground they are being systematically shoved toward.

    Your party is on a downward spiral of its own making because you simply refuse to listen to your voters. Not because there are not enough young people or immigrants wanting to vote. The problem lies in the population not voting in the numbers it should as they feel they have no party who meets their criteria.

    And, after listening to the Commons debate yesterday with Ms May, followed by the sprite lookalike Labour woman, what’s her name, I’m not surprised. There they were talking about the need for change in law regarding all manner of immigration difficulties, from slave traders to real levels of legal immigration and it felt as if the people had not spoken a word only a week ago. The absolute ignorance of little Ms Sprite, followed by the fool in the yellow tie was astonishing. Can’t remember if he was before or after rambling Blunkett. Yellow tie was a time warp back to Blair as he exuded a frantic insistence on open door policy. Again he shoved at us how glorious this multicultural influx had been for our nation. Insisting that not only should it continue but increase it was so desirable. And this after listening of an influx of massive undesirables we could not easily get rid of. Presumable because of EU law? And they wonder why the public feel they have nowhere to turn but UKIP. This bloke had me almost ready to put my cross next to Nigel in order to give the country a break from people like him forever feasting off the tax payer as they sell them down the river. Not to mention he, yellow tie, was supposed to be an academic. The cream of the crop in debaters and speakers for the citizen we were told.

    It was at this moment in time I realised that, I too felt as so many others in this country. left far out of reach by a sham democracy. For, it’s as if I’m a stateless person, living in another peoples country, whilst desperately trying to get back home.

    It feels as if these progressives, akin to yellow tie, are embarrassed by our cultural heritage and endlessly moving to destroy it. We appear to have a government and political class that is actively against the long term interests of indigenous British people. A sign that parliament should be placed in ‘special measure’ as its policies incite hatred against the entire host nation.

  3. Howell of Trent Valley
    12/06/2014 at 6:53 am

    Ms Elwes concerns herself mainly with personality, party, and the exuberance of her own verbosity. If she spent as much time on content as she does on form,and insult, she would be wise indeed.

    • maude elwes
      12/06/2014 at 11:23 am

      Calm down dear!

      What’s the matter, Howell of Trent Valley, frightened those who live in the dark with you may begin to sing from a different hymn sheet?

  4. Lord Blagger
    13/06/2014 at 7:46 am

    As honorary President of the non-partisan movement, Bite The Ballot – a fantastic organisation seeking to empower young voters – I know just how enthusiastic young people are about political issues when they are taught about the power they hold at the ballot box.


    1. How do we vote you out?

    2. What do we do about lying politicians?

    No tuition fees. Right of Recall. [Except for Peers]

    All lies told by the Lib Dems. What can we do about it? The electorate has to vote for someone they probably don’t want in order to get rid of the liars. Then they have to wait 5 years to get back someone with some policies they may like.

    How do we get rid of you when the electorate clearly have never wanted you in charge because you’ve been rejected 5 times at the ballot box in your attempt to be an MP?

    Instead you get foisted on us, and we can’t get rid of you.

    So much for democracy eh.

    • MilesJSD
      14/06/2014 at 11:09 am

      Lord Roberts, if I may say hello,
      and ask Lord Blagger
      “How would you, and should we,
      bring about the Enabling, prior to ’empowering’, of The People as a basicly effective participatory-democracy* ?

      *notionally ’24/7 bottom-upwards’ participative
      rather than once-every-five-years-silently-but-empoweredly-marking a scrap of recycled taxpayers’ paper with a single erasable pencil cross ?”

  5. MilesJSD
    13/06/2014 at 4:57 pm

    Surely what is of much higher importance and urgency is to begin empowering every-one in “bottom-upwards” pareticipatory-democracy ?

    the general citizenry and public need to started and appropriately guided to be immediately participative in serious cooperative discussion and scrutiny questioning, of our Needs, Hows, Difficulties, and response-abilities to World Issues
    prior to the still generally and effectively un-democratiucally pre-emptive “Debating”

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