Registering to Vote – What’s changed?

This post is by way of a public information service.

I was astonished to receive an e-mail today, which suggested that there were significant changes to the way people register to vote and that these were coming into effect now.

So I thought I’d look into this as being registered and therefore able to vote is very important to me.

What used to happen

My understanding had been that the local authority where you live sends a form to each household at regular intervals (once a year seems to be in my mind) on which all those living at that address are listed and those eligible to vote are thus registered on the electoral register.

Because I had lived abroad for some time, I certainly did this every year to remain on the list as an overseas voter. And when I came back (and moved back into the same apartment that I had lived in before going abroad) I registered again in response to a piece of paper landing on the doormat; but that time, I did it electronically. But essentially, nothing appeared to have changed.

And I know it all worked because not only did I vote in the last election, I also stood as a candidate and acted as nominator for some other candidates. And all those things you can only do if you’re on the register.

So what’s changed?

One of the interesting things that had passed me by is that the responsibility for registering people was down to the ‘head of household’; as we don’t go in for a head of household, this hadn’t really registered. Yes, there was only one form but we completed it together.

What has changed is that now everyone has individual responsibility to register to vote. What a good idea! We take individual responsibility for our political actions.

But hold on a minute; is there a snag? Well, yes, there usually is. First of all, the change in the law, which came about as a result of the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill, introduced in 2012 and which became law in May 2013, didn’t actually get a lot of public attention. As I said, it passed me by. And I didn’t seen any public announcements or posters anywhere that told me that there were changes afoot. So here is a really important change in the way the electoral system works and voters don’t get told.

Secondly, the Electoral Reform Society (which is an independent non-governmental organisation had reservations about the change: “You’re potentially looking at registration rates in the 50% region. It will make some problems worse” (as quoted in Wikipedia). So do we need a situation where fewer people register to vote? We already have a real problem with turnout (and that just measures the percentage of people who are registered who actually use their vote). But if fewer people register then that means even fewer people vote. It’s not an argument for not having individual responsibility; but it is a strong argument for ensuring that citizens know about this change and are encourage to actually register. And that hasn’t happened so far.

What do you need to do?

I suggest the immediate thing to do is to check out your local authority’s website (the bit that relates to election matters and go to whatever link they have to do with registration.

I looked at my local authority’s website this morning and this is what they say:

Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 22.07.35

So the good news is: at least in this local authority, they are intending to inform everyone of the change and of what everyone has to do about it. They are giving themselves a window of three months this summer. So if I haven’t received the promised letter by the end of September, it will be time to get onto them. I’m not totally convinced I’ll get that letter any more than I got my voting card for the May 2014 election (I didn’t but you don’t have to have the card to vote so long as you’re registered).

And finally …

There is an election campaign coming up; there will be candidates who will be interested in your views (because they want your vote). Maybe asking them what they think about the way this change has been introduced will highlight to them that this matters to voters and that in future we expect to hear about such things not by chance after the event, but whilst the decisions are being made. And it’s the responsibility of our MPs to keep us informed, isn’t it?

And at the same time we should ask them what they intend to do to get more people to register, to get more people to vote and to get more people involved.

About martinaweitsch

I'm interested in politics and rational political debate which isn't afraid of the facts or the complexities and contradictions inherent in most important issues.
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