1. Scrapping the “head of household” system of voter registration
The need for each individual in a household to register to vote was introduced in 2009, under the Labour Government of Gordon Brown. However, it’s phasing in over the following years during the Coalition Government of David Cameron has been seen as a disaster and has made democracy more inaccessible and less democratic. The previous system allowed the head of the household to register all those that lived in the home. This also meant that landlords could register all the students living in a single building. Now every single individual has to do this themselves. While this may seem a good idea, and was introduced partly because of the perceived threat of electoral fraud, in reality its implementation has been disastrous.
Individual registrations are “data matched” with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) database of National Insurance numbers. If they can’t be matched with this one database, further identification is required to confirm the identity and proof of residence of the person registering. In 2013 this led to 7 million individual instances where people couldn’t be immediately data matched. While this was less impactful at the General Election in 2015 as those still on the old household register at the end of 2013 would still be eligible to vote in 2015, it did not include anyone who had moved in the interim. The Labour party estimated that by the General Election of 2015 more than a million people had fallen off the register and therefore would be unable to vote. Most of them were the young and students who by large would not vote Conservative. Anyone who cannot be data matched will not get back on the register until they provide additional information and identification, even if they were previously on the household register. Of course, many will not do this or will not have the necessary identification to satisfy the requirements. Many will simply forget or be unaware that it is required. All those people will become disenfranchised.
The situation was compounded by the need of local councils to now have to contact 46 million individuals rather than 20 million households. Some councils could not achieve this through lack of money or simple I.T. skills. The system has become more complicated. For example a married woman now has to provide two forms of identification before getting her name back on the register. This fades into insignificance when you look at the impact on student registration, which plummeted under the new system. Landlords could no longer register all their students collectively and each student needed to do this themselves. This is not necessarily the first thing on the mind of most students and, as I’m sure the Conservatives are grateful for, tens of thousands simply don’t bother. A previous registration of up to 100% in universities has fallen in some cases to just 10%.
The use of just one database to data match people is ridiculous. Australia has used individual registration for years but use multiple databases to cross-match people. This allows a system that sees people registering just once then being cross-checked over time to ensure they remain on the register automatically, even if they move address. Here if you move or change your name you have to re-register and the more you move, for example, the more likely it will be hard to data match you with the DWP database.
Falling off the electoral register can have consequences on people, from not being able to vote to not being able to easily get loans or a positive credit check. The household register for a century had given an accurate and reliable measure of those eligible to vote. Individual voting using the system proposed by Labour and implemented by the Conservatives has seriously undermined the electoral register and individual’s ability to vote. The Conservatives know that individual voting slashes huge number of students, poor people and people living mobile urban lives off the register. That suits them fine as the majority of these people won’t vote for them so it is better for the Conservative party if they don’t vote at all. This directly undermines the ability of opposition parties in the UK to get their traditional voters into the polling booths.
2. Cutting “short money” and introducing the Lobbying Act
The Lobbying Act – or “Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014” to give it it’s official name – was introduced in 2014 on the principle of “cleaning-up politics” and “transparency.” It was seen necessary because of problems with lobbying at Westminster as well as alleged problems with the Labour party selection process in Falkirk, Scotland and influence of the Unite union in that process. Following the MPs expenses scandal, Prime Minister David Cameron feared that lobbying would be the next big scandal. The Act would limit the amount organisations could spend on lobbying during an election period to £5,000 before they had to register with the Electoral Commission. The Act said it would “reduce the amount of money permitted to be donated by ‘third parties’, organisations which would ‘reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or procure the electoral success of a party or candidate’.”
The Act was criticised as “partisan” and “illiberal,” and that it would restrict the ability of charities to progress their campaigns. The Labour MP Angela Eagle said it “seeks to silence critics of the Government in the run-up to the  general election, while letting vested interests operate out of sight” The National Council of Voluntary Organisations opposed the bill and a large number of charities and other campaigning groups joined in opposition to the bill including Action for Blind People, Action for Children, British Heart Foundation, Campaign to Protect Rural England, Countryside Alliance, Guide Dogs, Islamic Relief UK, Hope not Hate, National Federation of Women’s Institutes, The Royal British Legion, RSPB and the Salvation Army. Some also suggested that the Act was a ploy by the Liberal Democrats (who were a junior partner in David Cameron’s Coalition Government between 2010 and 2015) to stifle the voice of the National Union of Students (NUS), who were targeting the Lib Dems at the 2015 General Election because of their support for tuition fees in the Coalition Government despite campaigning against them at the 2010 General Election.
3. Threatening to bring in photo I.D. requirement to vote
Theresa May, if she wins the 8 June General Election, says her Government will bring in a compulsory photo ID requirement for anyone wishing to vote. They say it is to tackle election fraud, but in reality it is the third way they will undermine opposition parties and restrict the ability of many to vote. Should she succeed in her plans, no-one in the UK will be able to photo unless they own a passport or driving licence. Many poor people don’t have either and the Tories are relying on this to reduce the number of poor people from voting in the belief that most of them won’t vote Conservative.
The justification that it will tackle election fraud is simply preposterous – there is no major problem with election fraud, despite what the Tories and UKIP will have you believe. Data issued by the Government itself says that in all elections in 2015, including the General Election, 51.4 million people voted. There were just 130 allegations of electoral fraud. That amounts to 0.00025% of votes cast. Furthermore, the number of 130 are allegations, some of which may be true, others will be false, while others may have gone unreported or unnoticed. The Electoral Reform Society says that the figures rely on “anecdotes and self-professed claims to have witnessed (or even just heard about) electoral fraud”. It is hard to see that 130 allegations among a vote of 54.1 million people constitutes a problem that justifies introducing legislation that will disenfranchise so many people. The Electoral Reform Society estimates that 3.5 million people, or 7.5% of the electorate, would have no acceptable form of ID.
Northern Ireland has used photo ID for sometime and there they found that poorer people were less likely to have the ID required so therefore introduced a free voter ID card. The Tories don’t seem to be interested in extending that idea to the rest of the UK, exactly it seems as they don’t want poorer people voting. They are also opposed to the introduction of a National Identity card which would be ideal if a photo ID scheme is introduced. Maya Goodfellow, writing an opinion piece in The Guardian concludes:
“The Tories will say that voter ID is about making democracy more robust. This couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s hard to see how this is anything but an attempt to further reduce turnout, and to undermine Labour.”
If you haven’t already registered to vote you will have to be quick. The deadline for registering to vote in the 8 June General Election is 11:59pm on 22 May 2017. To register to vote, click HERE and follow instructions. You will need your National insurance Number and a passport if you are a British citizen living abroad. Registering to vote will take just 5 minutes.
Sources & Further Reading:
- No photo ID, no vote: why this cynical Tory plan will suffocate democracy – theguardian.com – 19 May 2017 – by Maya Goodfellow
- Conservatives will force people to use photo ID to vote, stopping millions from taking part in future elections – iinependent.co.uk – 19 May 2017 – by Andrew Griffin
- Conservative Manifesto Pledge Demanding Voters Have Photo ID Could Stop Millions From Voting – huffingtonpost.co.uk – 18 May 2017
- Is the government’s plan for voter ID an attack on Labour voters? – newstatesman.com – 18 May 2017 – by Stephen Bush
- Britain’s missing voters: why individual registration has been a disaster – theguardian.com – 5 Feburary 2015 – by Paul Wheeler, Founder of Political Skills Forum
- Charities ‘frightened’ to campaign by lobbying law – ex-bishop – bbc.co.uk/news – 22 January 2015 – by Ross Hawkins, Political Correspondent