The Electoral Commission

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

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4. Duplicate electoral registration applications

Next steps

Reduce the number and impact of duplicate applications

We want to work with the UK’s governments to consider how to incorporate more automatic checks into the online application service to highlight if someone has already submitted an application.

We will work with all of the UK’s governments and EROs to review public awareness campaign activities and messaging on the government and other websites signposting to the online registration service, and to improve the wording on the online registration service to remind applicants that they may not need to apply again. These changes should be developed and implemented as quickly as possible so that they are in place in time for registration ahead of elections in May 2018 at the latest.

We will also work with Electoral Management Software (EMS) suppliers, EROs and the UK Government to explore and identify ways to enable quicker duplicate detection and better processing to reduce the administrative burden on EROs and their staff, which should include exploration of the role improved communication between separate registers could play in this.

The online registration system currently allows people to submit an application to register even if they are already registered to vote. There is no direct link between the online registration service and the electoral registers, which are each held separately on local databases using a range of different management software systems. This means that the different systems cannot currently communicate directly with each other and it is therefore not possible to automatically detect and prevent these duplicate applications.

After the June 2016 EU referendum, we highlighted data which showed that 38% of applications made during the campaign were duplicates. The relative ease of submitting an application to register to vote using the online service, in comparison to the difficulty of contacting a local authority electoral services team by telephone or email to check if they were already registered, meant that many people simply submitted another application.

We worked with the UK Government, Association of Electoral Administrators and Scottish Assessors Association ahead of the May polls and the June general election to update messaging across our websites and the GOV.UK register to vote site to explain that voters did not need to apply again if they were already registered to vote. Our website explained that where voters had received a poll card for or voted in the local elections on Thursday 4 May, they did not need to apply again for the UK general election. The Cabinet Office also added a new page to the start of the online registration process to alert users to this message before they could continue to submit an application.

Despite this, initial estimates by EROs of the proportion of duplicate applications received ahead of the 2017 general election have ranged from 30% of the total submitted in some areas to 70% in others. We are currently collecting data from EROs on duplicate applications which should provide a more precise figure for the period ahead of the general election. Even without that detailed data, the difference between the number of applications submitted between 1 December 2016 and 22 May 2017 (approximately 4.9 million) and the net change in the number of electors on the registers in that period (approximately 1.4 million register entries added) suggests that a significant proportion of applications are likely to have been duplicates. EROs also reported that some applications were from voters wishing to change their voting preferences for the election – for example, from a polling station vote to a proxy or postal vote.

EROs have again highlighted the significant administrative impact of processing duplicate applications ahead of the general election. Each individual application must be carefully checked to confirm whether or not they are a duplicate, although some electoral management systems used by EROs can help manage this workflow more efficiently.

EROs and their local authority electoral services teams have also highlighted concerns that the significant increase in work required to process registration applications ahead of the June general election came while many were also running local government elections in May 2017 and then preparing to run the poll for the general election.

We again received feedback from EROs and directly from electors themselves that it would be more helpful if it were possible for people to use the online registration system to check whether they were already correctly registered to vote before submitting a new application. Similar facilities are already offered to voters in other comparable democracies, including Australia, New Zealand and the Republic of Ireland.

We want to begin quickly to work with the UK Government to consider how existing systems could be improved to address the administrative impact and wasted effort by EROs and their teams which results from duplicate applications. We have previously recommended that an online ‘look up’ facility should be provided for electors to check whether they are already registered and we are keen to explore options for enhancing the existing online registration service. It may be possible, for example, for the online service to notify applicants if they have recently submitted an online application before they complete a further application to tackle the cause of the problem at source.

There are also more immediate steps which the Commission, the UK Government and other government and public agencies can take to help reduce the number of duplicate applications.

These steps include reviewing public awareness campaign activities and messaging on the government and other websites signposting to the online registration service, and improving the wording on the online registration service to remind applicants that they may not need to apply again. The UK Government should also consider how best to link to absent vote application forms and information provided on the Commission’s Your Vote Matters website, instead of suggesting that the online registration service could be used to apply for a postal or proxy vote.

Elections and referendums