AS many as eight million people face being disenfranchised at the next election due to an electoral registration system which is neither effective nor efficient, says the cross-party Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee in a new report.

The report finds that the current state of the electoral registration system, which governs local elections in England and UK general elections, needs urgent review.

The report finds that there have been notable issues with the practical implementation of recent electoral registration reforms, including voter ID which left individuals without the right ID being prevented from voting and only a limited number of forms of ID being permitted. The report disagrees with the Government’s view on the adequacy of the list of accepted photo ID and believes it should be widened to include other forms, such as emergency services passes and non-London travel passes.

Clive Betts, Chair of the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (LUHC) Committee, said: “Elections are the cornerstone of our democracy and yet we are burdened by a system which is both ineffective and inefficient, where millions of people are disenfranchised because they are incorrectly registered or not on the electoral register. In the year of a general election, this is a damning indictment of the UK’s electoral registration arrangements and a threat to the rights of British voters.

“Our voter registration system is creaking. Recent changes such as voter ID have been tacked onto a Victorian era system which is failing voters, political parties, and election officials. We need a major review of our election arrangements to boost voter registration and to ensure our elections are seen as credible and legitimate. It is a major and fundamental defect in our democratic system that many millions of UK citizens face being unable to make their voice heard at election time.”

The report recognises that certain groups, such as young people, renters, ethnic minorities, and those in lower socio-economic groups are significantly less likely to be registered to vote. The Committee were also told that some disabled people do not feel supported to register to vote, particularly struggling with the lack of variety in communication channels.

The report recommends a series of steps to help tackle under-registration, including involving schools and bodies such as the Department for Work and Pensions, HM Revenue and Customs, Driver Vehicle and Licensing Agency, and HM Passport Office in signposting voter registration. The report also recommends that registering to vote be signposted when national insurance numbers are issued to citizens who reach sixteen years of age as a way of ensuring that more young people are entered on the electoral register.

The report highlights the importance for local authorities and Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) to understand communication and access needs to ensure that people with disabilities are not shut out of the electoral process. The report finds it totally unacceptable that local authorities are contacting people without taking into account their communication needs. It also calls for the Government to move towards an opt in automated voter registration system to help ensure that voters are not disenfranchised.

The report notes the current strains on the electoral registration system, including the loss of electoral staff and expertise. It also expresses concern at the pressures on the registration system caused by event led registration, a surge of applications in the pre-election period when voting is at the forefront of voters’ minds. The report warns that election officials may struggle to cope with these pressures at the next General Election, given that, following the Elections Act 2022, there are now additionally up to 3.4 million British citizens who live overseas who can register to vote.

The report references the Electoral Commission’s 2023 report, ‘Electoral registers in the UK’, which found that completeness of the registers in the UK stands at 86 per cent. ‘Accuracy’ looks at the number of false entries on the electoral registers which is currently at 88 per cent. This means that potentially as many as eight million people were not correctly registered at their current address and people may be registered twice inadvertently. The Commission explained that ” if a UK general election was called now, around 14 per cent of the eligible population would not be able to vote.”

The Committee’s report notes the example of Canada, where the system of electoral registration is broadly comparable to the UK’s as, unlike in many other countries, the UK and Canada do not have a civil population register from which electoral registers are derived. The Canadian system has resulted in electoral registers with considerably higher rates of accuracy and completeness than in the UK.

* Read or download the report here.

* Source: Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee