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Record electorate at 2017 UK general election, but further modernisation of the registration system urgently needed

Published: 17 Jul 2017

June’s general election had the largest ever electorate for a UK-wide poll, with an estimated 46.8 million people registered to vote, a new Electoral Commission report has highlighted. The figure is approximately 500,000 more electors than the last general election in 2015.

The report finds that online electoral registration has transformed access to elections in Great Britain. This, combined with active campaigns to encourage registration in the run-up to recent polls, particularly aimed at under-registered groups, meant a record electorate. But the report also argues that further modernisation is urgently required to improve the service to voters and relieve burdens on local authorities, especially from the current large number of duplicate registration applications. The Commission is keen to work with the UK’s governments to develop ambitious plans   to make sure the registration process is more joined up with other public services and fully fit for purpose in today’s world.

Sir John Holmes, Chair of the Electoral Commission, said:

“The size of the registered electorate for the general election demonstrates the UK’s strong tradition of democratic engagement, and reflects the hard work of all concerned. However, if we are to keep pace with modern habits and practice in a digital world, the electoral registration system must continue to evolve, and consider innovative solutions such as direct or automatic enrolment processes. These have the potential to deliver significant improvements to the accuracy and completeness of electoral registers as well as efficiencies for local authorities and the public purse.

The Commission’s specific recommendations include:

  • Urgent action is needed to reduce both the scale and the administrative impact of duplicate registration applications ahead of future polls. The Commission wants to work with the UK’s governments to incorporate more automatic checks into the online application service to highlight if someone has already submitted an application.
  • Electoral registration should be more joined-up with other public services, to make registering to vote even simpler for the public and more efficient for EROs. This should include integrating applications into other public service transactions and better use of national data to identify new electors or home movers.
  • Online electoral registration should be extended to Northern Ireland as soon as possible.
  • Automatic registration methods should be explored further, drawing on insights from other comparable countries.

The report’s key findings include:

  • More than 2.9 million applications to register to vote were made across the UK between the announcement of the election on 18 April and the deadline for applications on 22 May, including 612,000 on 22 May itself..
  • Of these applications, 96% were made through the online portal www.gov.uk/register-to-vote.
  • 69% of online applications were from people aged under 34, 8% from those over 55.
  • Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) say that numbers of duplicate applications – from people already on the electoral register - were high, with estimates ranging from 30% to 70%.

Today’s report is available on the Commission’s website.

Ends

For more information contact the Electoral Commission press office on 020 7271 0704 or press@electoralcommission.org.uk

Out of office hours 07789 920414

Notes to editors

  1. 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 efficiencyThe Commission was set up in 2000 and reports to the UK and Scottish Parliaments.
  1. The Electoral Commission has specific responsibilities and functions in relation to the delivery and regulation of referendums held under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act, which applies to any referendum Bill brought before the UK Parliament unless specifically stated otherwise.
  2. This is the first of the Electoral Commission’s statutory reports on the 2017 UK Parliamentary General Election, and the Commission will issue further reports on accessibility, public opinion, the administration of the poll and the regulation of political finance later this year.
  3. To raise awareness of the general election and how to take part the Electoral Commission ran a national voter registration campaign ahead of the polls on 4 May and 8 June. This included TV, radio and digital advertising.

Journalist