Major study of the Northern Ireland electoral register shows changes are needed to help more people ensure they can vote

Introduction

Electoral registration processes need updating in order to ensure as many people as possible are registered, according to a new study by the Electoral Commission. Its research found that 1 in 4 eligible voters in Northern Ireland are not correctly registered at their current address, representing as many as 360,000 to 430,000 people. Meanwhile 20% of the register entries are inaccurate, affecting up to 285,000 people.

The first detailed look at the health of electoral register in three years, the research highlights that while the proportion of people registered to vote in Northern Ireland has fallen, young people and private renters are still less likely to be correctly registered.

Private renters remain the least likely to have up to date register entries (38%) compared to people who owned their houses outright (88%). Registration levels are also low among young people aged 18-34, with only 51% correctly registered, compared to 94% for people aged 65 and over.

The 2018 figures show a return to the levels of accuracy and completeness recorded in 2012. The last Northern Ireland canvass was in 2013, with the next one scheduled for 2020.

The Commission has renewed calls for modernisation of the electoral registration system in Northern Ireland, recommending that public data could be better used to help keep the electoral register accurate and complete throughout the year.

Commenting on the study, Anna Carragher, Electoral Commissioner for Northern Ireland said

“Our findings clearly show more must be done to modernise electoral registration in Northern Ireland in order to tackle the challenges of maintaining an accurate and complete electoral register and to help under-registered groups, such as young people and private renters, make sure they are registered.

“A full canvass of electors in Northern Ireland will take place in 2020. Although this will provide an important opportunity to address the decline in the quality of the register, reform of the registration system will be vital to maintaining the accuracy and completeness of the register in the longer term.

Better use of public data could hold the key to modernising the electoral registration process and would make it easier for voters and the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland to keep the register up to date throughout the year.”

Feasibility studies

Feasibility studies published by the Commission in July explored different ways that public data could improve the electoral registration system and how reforms to the registration process could work in practice. Reforms such as using Department for Work and Pensions data to register young people automatically when they are allocated their National Insurance number, for example, could have a real positive impact on registration levels.

Ends

Background

  • The Accuracy and Completeness of the electoral registers in Northern Ireland report can be read on the Electoral Commission’s website 
  • The Accuracy and Completeness data visualisation tool is available on the Electoral Commission’s website
  • The Electoral Commission has also published a report on the Accuracy and Completeness of the electoral registers in Great Britain. This can be found on the Commission’s website
  • The Electoral Commission’s accuracy and completeness studies assess the quality of the electoral registers following changes to electoral law, electoral administration and population changes.
  • Data was collected via a house to house survey of 1,003 households across Northern Ireland.
  • The Commission estimates that between 360,000 and 430,000 eligible voters in Northern Ireland are not correctly registered at their current address. It is not possible to calculate the absolute number of people not correctly registered at their current address because the size of the population eligible to vote in Northern Ireland cannot be determined with certainty. The calculation is, therefore, based on an estimate of completeness and an estimate of the total eligible population. More information can be found on the Commission’s website.
  • The canvass is an audit of the electoral register in Northern Ireland and is used to find out which electors have moved or were not previously registered.
  • The Commission’s previous accuracy and completeness study was published in August 2016. It found that the overall accuracy and completeness of the electoral register in Northern Ireland had increased. More details can be found on our website.
  • The quality of the electoral registers is measured in two main ways: their accuracy and their completeness
    • By accuracy we mean that ‘there are no false entries on the electoral registers’. Accuracy is therefore the measure of the percentage of entries on the registers which relate to verified and eligible voters who are resident at that address. Inaccurate register entries may relate to entries which have become redundant (for example, due to home movement), which are ineligible and have been included unintentionally, or which are fraudulent.
    • By completeness, we mean that ‘every person who is entitled to have an entry on an electoral register is registered’. Completeness refers to the percentage of eligible people who are registered at their current address. The proportion of eligible people who are not included on the register at their current address constitutes the rate of under-registration.
  • The Electoral Commission has published the main findings of its feasibility studies on modernising electoral registration. This can be found on the Commission’s website.

Notes to Editors

  • For more information contact the Electoral Commission press office on 028 9089 4023, out of office hours 07789 920 414 or press@electoralcommission.org.uk
  • The Electoral Commission is the independent body which oversees elections and regulates political finance in the UK. We work to promote public confidence in the democratic process and ensure its integrity by:
    • enabling the delivery of free and fair elections and referendums, focusing on the needs of electors and addressing the changing environment to ensure every vote remains secure and accessible
    • regulating political finance – taking proactive steps to increase transparency, ensure compliance and pursue breaches
    • using our expertise to make and advocate for changes to our democracy,
    • aiming to improve fairness, transparency and efficiency
  • The Commission was set up in 2000 and reports to the UK and Scottish Parliaments.