3rd December 2015
Individual Electoral Registration (IER): The impacts of the transition deadline
Tuesday, 1st December 2015 was the deadline for the transition to Individual Electoral Registration, as set out by the government in the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 (Transitional Provisions) Order 2015. The end of the transition means that all remaining entries relating to electors who had not registered individually will have now been removed on publication of the revised registers, creating a risk related to the completeness of the registers and to voter participation in elections. Initially, councils had until December 2016 to register these voters but in July the Government announced its intention to bring forward the change by twelve months.
The introduction of IER was the most significant change to the electoral registration system since the registers began, posing a number of challenges including IT system failures; issues around remuneration of canvassers; decreased number of entries in registers compared to last year; difficulties around the registration of students and people in care homes; and duplicate applications because of large volumes of people registering online. In addition, a large volume of UK citizens overseas, who applied to register to vote, were unable to.
According to the Cabinet Office, since the introduction of IER, 75% of all applications to register to vote have been made online. However, the Electoral Commission’s analysis of the registers used for the May 2015 elections, presented to Parliament in June, found that there were still 1.9 million entries being retained under the transitional arrangements in place for the move to IER from the previous household system – 4% of all register entries. There was significant variation in how the 1.9 million entries were distributed across different local authorities, and it was not possible to tell how many of these entries were for electors who were still resident at an address and eligible to be registered to vote and how many entries were redundant.
Research conducted by HOPE not hate has argued that there were significant discrepancies in the drop-off rate across the country. Eight out of the ten worst affected local authorities were in London, with 23% set to drop off in Hackney and 18% in Brent. Inner London was to be the worst affected as a much higher proportion of people live in private rented accommodation. Glasgow was estimated to lose 13.3% of its electorate, while Birmingham would lose 56,000 people, a 7.7% share.
Councils have been doing their best to have as complete and accurate registers as possible. Over the last few months, Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) in every local authority conducted their annual canvass of electors.
Despite the efforts of EROs, there will now be some electors taken off the register who will not be able to vote in the May 2016 elections unless they register again. The registers published by 1 December 2015 will be used for the Parliamentary Boundary Review which will determine the Parliamentary constituencies for the next 10 years.
Additionally, they will be used at next year’s elections to the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the Mayor of London and London Assembly, Police and Crime Commissioner elections across England and Wales, and local government elections in many areas of England.
All these changes and challenges raise questions over the quality, security, and reliability of electoral registration and the administration of all elections, polls, and referenda. It is also important to consider the impact of ongoing changes to local government, notably the increasing need for authorities to outsource services and the impact of devolution.
Given all the above, the future of elections needs to be the subject of a comprehensive review. There is no steady state or status quo to maintain. Radical questions need to be asked given that the current regime for running elections seems increasing unsustainable. Do we act now or wait until the system fails? And if we act now, what is the answer?
 HOPE not Hate, ‘Britain’s missing voters: Individual Electoral Registration and the Boundary Review’,
By Dave Smith, Solace Spokesperson on Elections and Democratic Renewal