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UK Politics no image

Published on May 24th, 2012 | by Taylor Heyman
Image ©

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="565" caption="© Coventry City Council"][/caption]
On Monday I attended the launch of the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill at the Cabinet offices. I was awed by the surroundings forthe meeting and the obvious contribution of the many charities and other bodies there towards forming the bill. Parliamentary under-secretary for Constitutional and political reform, Mark Harper introduced the main changes to the bill, and took questions from various stakeholders in the audience.
The main changes to the system as outlined in the new bill will be Individual registration - In the future, instead of registering to vote as a household, each person will have to register individually. This change aims to eliminate electoral fraud at the point of registration. As part of the registration process there may also be a data matching process to verify the identity of the elector.  John Turner said this would be mainly through NI numbers  matched with DWP records.  However, this only covers two-thirds of the nation, and the other third will be individually contacted and asked to provide documentation. This could be slightly an unwieldy and arduous process; but as many of these people are on the existing register, they will be transferred automatically. Groups representing the disabled are concerned that this arrangement could miss an opportunity to survey the needs of the disabled, and a representative from Scope suggested surveying the disabled about how they wish to vote and their care needs at the point of registration.  Mark Harper said he would consider this is an option, but that the system needed to stay as clear as possible to encourage people to register. Northern Ireland has had individual registration for the last decade, and it has led to clarification of the register and more registration of young people through schools taking an active role in teaching young people about how to register and the importance of voting. If  this is to work in England, Wales and Scotland then we need to focus on showing young people how the new system works.  It is something we should welcome. However, as Jenny Watson (Chair of the Electoral commission) has expressed, there are some worries about implementing a pre-verification system, it  must be properly tested to ensure safety of data, as well as if the DWP can handle so many requests for verification against their records.  There is also the problem of ID verification at the polling booth, at the moment there is no need to prove who you are and I believe, as Jenny Watson does, that this needs to change to ensure every gets their one fair vote. Civil Penalty-  This is a policy which will enforce fining of those who repeatedly refuse to register to vote. It is not to say that once registered they must vote, merely that for the purposes of a complete register, which is used for jury service selection e.t.c.,  those who are eligible must participate. Naturally this raises concerns that councils will use the penalty as a means of raising funds much like parking fines;  Harper addressed this concern, stating in the house yesterday "any moneys collected will be paid back to the Exchequer through the Consolidated Fund". Funding- £108 million has been set aside by the government to roll out the new system which will be distributed to Local Authorities through grants. Extending the electoral timetable for UK parliamentary elections from 17 to 25 days. This may benefit overseas  service voters based abroad, enabling them to have more time to receive and return a postal vote. Postal and Proxy voting- Although if you are already registered to vote your  details will be moved to the new register; your preferences won't. This means that if you usually vote by post or by proxy, you will have to re-register your preferences with the new system. This obviously raises concerns with the elderly and those less able to make it to polling stations on the day, the government must ensure that care givers are aware of the change and take the relevant steps to ensure everyone is registered correctly. So there you have it- what you need to know about the Electoral Administration and Registration Bill.

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Need to know – Electoral Reform

© Coventry City Council

On Monday I attended the launch of the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill at the Cabinet offices. I was awed by the surroundings forthe meeting and the obvious contribution of the many charities and other bodies there towards forming the bill. Parliamentary under-secretary for Constitutional and political reform, Mark Harper introduced the main changes to the bill, and took questions from various stakeholders in the audience.

The main changes to the system as outlined in the new bill will be

Individual registration - In the future, instead of registering to vote as a household, each person will have to register individually. This change aims to eliminate electoral fraud at the point of registration. As part of the registration process there may also be a data matching process to verify the identity of the elector.  John Turner said this would be mainly through NI numbers  matched with DWP records.  However, this only covers two-thirds of the nation, and the other third will be individually contacted and asked to provide documentation. This could be slightly an unwieldy and arduous process; but as many of these people are on the existing register, they will be transferred automatically. Groups representing the disabled are concerned that this arrangement could miss an opportunity to survey the needs of the disabled, and a representative from Scope suggested surveying the disabled about how they wish to vote and their care needs at the point of registration.  Mark Harper said he would consider this is an option, but that the system needed to stay as clear as possible to encourage people to register.

Northern Ireland has had individual registration for the last decade, and it has led to clarification of the register and more registration of young people through schools taking an active role in teaching young people about how to register and the importance of voting. If  this is to work in England, Wales and Scotland then we need to focus on showing young people how the new system works.  It is something we should welcome. However, as Jenny Watson (Chair of the Electoral commission) has expressed, there are some worries about implementing a pre-verification system, it  must be properly tested to ensure safety of data, as well as if the DWP can handle so many requests for verification against their records.  There is also the problem of ID verification at the polling booth, at the moment there is no need to prove who you are and I believe, as Jenny Watson does, that this needs to change to ensure every gets their one fair vote.

Civil Penalty-  This is a policy which will enforce fining of those who repeatedly refuse to register to vote. It is not to say that once registered they must vote, merely that for the purposes of a complete register, which is used for jury service selection e.t.c.,  those who are eligible must participate. Naturally this raises concerns that councils will use the penalty as a means of raising funds much like parking fines;  Harper addressed this concern, stating in the house yesterday “any moneys collected will be paid back to the Exchequer through the Consolidated Fund“.

Funding- £108 million has been set aside by the government to roll out the new system which will be distributed to Local Authorities through grants.

Extending the electoral timetable for UK parliamentary elections from 17 to 25 days. This may benefit overseas  service voters based abroad, enabling them to have more time to receive and return a postal vote.

Postal and Proxy voting- Although if you are already registered to vote your  details will be moved to the new register; your preferences won’t. This means that if you usually vote by post or by proxy, you will have to re-register your preferences with the new system. This obviously raises concerns with the elderly and those less able to make it to polling stations on the day, the government must ensure that care givers are aware of the change and take the relevant steps to ensure everyone is registered correctly.

So there you have it- what you need to know about the Electoral Administration and Registration Bill.

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