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Statement from the Electoral Commission

Published: 30 Jun 2011

The Electoral Commission – the independent elections watchdog – has welcomed the opportunity to scrutinise the Government’s plans for a fundamental change to the way we register to vote.

Great Britain currently uses a system of ‘household registration’ – where the ‘head of household’ can decide who to register in a property – that dates back to the beginning of the last century.

The Commission believes that changing the way we register to vote is important in our modern society because it gives individuals responsibility for their own right to vote (rather than leaving this to a ‘head of household’).  It should also make the electoral register more secure, by making it easier to check the identity of people who register.

But this is a significant change, and the Government needs to design the transition carefully to ensure that people do not lose out on the opportunity to register and vote.

Peter Wardle, Chief Executive of the Electoral Commission, said:

“This is the biggest change to the way we register people to vote since the introduction of the universal franchise. It needs to be managed carefully, and we welcome the fact that the Government have published this White Paper and draft legislation now, so that everyone with an interest in the electoral process has time to study the plans and ensure the change is implemented in a way that puts voters first.  We will scrutinise the White Paper in detail and respond to it formally in the autumn.”

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Notes to editors

1. The Electoral Commission is an independent body set up by the UK Parliament. Our aim is integrity and public confidence in the UK’s democratic process. We regulate party and election finance, set standards for well-run elections and are responsible for the conduct and regulations of referendums held under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (2000).

2. Since 2003, the Commission has been calling for the Government to change to a system where individuals are responsible for registering their own vote, and it welcomed Parliament’s decision in 2009 to make this change.  In May 2010 the new Government announced its decision to accelerate the change. The White Paper published today sets out the proposed steps involved in the change.

3. The Cabinet Office’s White paper is available here:
http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/sites/default/files/resources/individual-electoral-reform.pdf

4. The Commission 2010 report The completeness and accuracy of electoral register in Great Britain is available here: http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/87111/The-completeness-and-accuracy-of-electoral-registers-in-Great-Britain.pdf

5. In 2005 the Commission found that between around 3.5 million people (or 8-9 percent of the eligible population) were missing from the register.

6. Further information about IER can be found on the Commission's website here: http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/elections/voter-registration/individual-electoral-registration

Journalist