The Electoral Commission

The independent body which oversees elections and regulates political finance in the UK

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1. Electoral registration in the UK

There is no national electoral register in the United Kingdom. A total of 380 separate electoral registers are compiled and maintained by Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) in Great Britain, and one register for Northern Ireland is compiled and maintained by the Chief Electoral Officer.

A system of individual electoral registration (IER) has operated in Great Britain since 2014, and a similar system has been used in Northern Ireland since 2002. Individuals are responsible for applying to register to vote individually, and must supply identifying information (such as date of birth and National Insurance number) as part of their application. The information is verified before their names can be added to the electoral register.

An online registration application service was introduced in Great Britain at the same time as IER in 2014. Individuals can apply to register online at any point during the year at, or by completing and returning a paper application form. In either case, although data from registration applications are verified against Department for Work and Pensions records, each application is determined locally by individual EROs. The deadline to register to vote for the general election was Monday 22 May 2017.

Each ERO in Great Britain is still required by law to conduct an annual canvass of all properties in their registration area to audit their electoral register entries and to identify electors who have moved or were not previously registered. EROs must publish a revised register by 1 December each year, with further updates published on the first working day of each month and before elections. In 2006 the annual canvass was abolished in Northern Ireland and replaced with a process of continuous registration.

Our public awareness campaign

The Electoral Commission ran a campaign to increase people’s awareness of the election and how to take part, including the need to be registered to vote by 22 May. Our campaign strategy was informed by the need to maximise the limited time available and had four strands:

  • Using advertising with a tried-and-tested record of success
  • Securing high-profile social media partnerships with Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Nextdoor
  • Generating media coverage around key milestones
  • Supporting partner organisations - including UK and local government, charities and NGOs - by co-ordinating activities and providing resources for them to use on their own channels

Our aim was to reach both a general audience and under-registered groups, including students, home movers, 18-34 year olds, private renters, UK citizens living overseas and armed forces personnel. The channels used across Great Britain included TV, radio, social media and Google search advertising. In Northern Ireland channels included radio, social media, outdoor and digital display advertising.

We updated existing advertising materials and created new social and radio adverts based on the ‘don’t lose it’ concept used in previous campaigns.

The time constraints on registration opportunities for armed forces personnel serving abroad and UK citizens living overseas were even more pronounced.

We worked with the Cabinet Office who supported our campaign by facilitating support from all departments who shared our messaging across social media and intranet channels; and featuring registration reminders across GOV.UK including at the end of transactions on the platform, such as passport and driving licence applications.

We worked with the Ministry of Defence to provide materials for Unit Registration Officers and with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to provide materials for embassies and consulates. Facebook advertising also enabled us to target both groups effectively; we updated existing advertising materials and kept refreshing them to ensure the messaging reached our target audiences.

Elections and referendums