3. Online registration
Extend online electoral registration to Northern Ireland
Online electoral registration has transformed access to elections and referendums for voters in Great Britain, and we want the Chief Electoral Officer to make progress to extend online registration to Northern Ireland as quickly as possible.
The online registration service has significantly improved access to elections in Great Britain since it was introduced in June 2014. Data about applications made using the online electoral registration service show that the numbers of people using the service have increased each year since 2014. Between 10 June 2014 and 30 June 2017 a total of 21,580,788 registration applications (representing 77.6% of all applications) have been submitted online.
Analysis of online registration applications data again shows that the number of applications appears to be related to the proximity of high-profile electoral events. More than 2.9 million applications to register to vote were made between the Prime Minister’s announcement on 18 April (that she would ask Parliament to approve a general election) and the deadline for applications on 22 May. More than 96% of these applications were made using the online service.
The number of applications submitted online on 18 April was approximately 146,810, compared with 10,106 submitted on the previous day. On 22 May, the last day for submitting registration applications, a total of 612,543 applications were made using the online service. Figure 4 on page 8 below illustrates the profile of electoral registration applications using the online service between 1 April and 31 May 2017.
More detailed data from the online registration service shows that online registration has been particularly popular among some of those groups who we know are less likely to be registered to vote, including young people and British citizens overseas. Over two-thirds (69%) of online applications received between 18 April 2017 and 22 May 2017 were from people aged under 34. Applications from those aged over 55 represented 8% of all applications received.
Figure 4: Electoral registration applications made between 1 April and 31 May 2017
Digital applications from overseas voters represented a relatively small proportion of the total (4%) but with 117,609 applications compared to a total of 263,902 overseas electors included in the registers published in December 2016, it is clear that online registration is a popular and important facility for British citizens living overseas.
Online registration in Northern Ireland
On 12 December 2016 the Representation of the People (Electronic Communications and Amendment) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2016 passed both Houses of Parliament. The Regulations allow for the introduction of digital electoral registration and will come into force once the necessary technical requirements are in place for the system to operate in Northern Ireland.
The Chief Electoral Officer had originally intended that online registration would be launched by the end of 2016. However a number of technical difficulties began to emerge during testing of the system, including how it would work in collaboration with the current online portal that exists in Great Britain. The launch was therefore delayed until early 2017.
Following the announcement in January 2017 that a Northern Ireland Assembly election would be held in March 2017, the Chief Electoral Officer further postponed the scheduled introduction of online registration. This was understandable given that there were a number of technical difficulties which still needed to be addressed prior to implementation. It is now likely that online registration will be introduced in autumn 2017.