Major study of the electoral registers in Great Britain shows changes are needed to help millions of people ensure they can vote

Introduction

Electoral registration processes need updating in order to ensure as many people as possible are registered, according to a new study by the Electoral Commission. Its research found that 17% of eligible voters in Great Britain are not correctly registered at their current address, representing as many as 9.4 million people. Meanwhile 11% of the register entries are inaccurate, affecting up to 5.6 million people.

The first detailed look at the health of electoral registers in three years, the research highlights that while the proportion of people registered to vote in Great Britain remains stable, young people and private renters are still less likely to be correctly registered.

Private renters remain the least likely to have up to date register entries (58%) compared to people who own their houses outright (91%). Registration levels are also low among young people aged 18-34, with only 71% correctly registered, compared to 94% for people aged 65 and over. 

The Commission has renewed calls for modernisation of the electoral registration system in Great Britain to make it easier for voters and electoral administrators to keep the electoral registers accurate and complete throughout the year.

Commenting on the study, Sir John Holmes, Chair of the Commission said:

“These figures may not have changed much in recent years but they are still shocking. Local authorities do a great job in the circumstances, and the UK’s governments are taking important steps to improve the current system through reform of the annual canvass, but more still needs to be done to make registration easier for everyone and, crucially, to help under-registered groups, such as young people and private renters, make sure they are registered.

“Better use of public data could hold the key to modernising the electoral registration process. We know that when people move house, registering to vote may not be a priority. Giving electoral administrators access to reliable and trusted public data would help them more easily identify people who have moved and may be eligible to register to vote. Being able to change your electoral registration details whilst, for example, updating your driving licence could be another way of making it easier for people to ensure they are registered.

“We want governments in the UK to commit to work with the Commission on this agenda, to establish a route map to legislation which will enable these types of improvements, so that in a 21st century democracy citizens are readily able to be on the register of electors.”

Feasibility studies

Feasibility studies published by the Commission in July explored different ways that public data could improve the electoral registration system and how reforms to the registration process could work in practice. Reforms such as using Department for Work and Pensions data to register young people automatically when they are allocated their National Insurance number, for example, could have a real positive impact on registration levels.

Ends

Background

  • The Accuracy and Completeness of the electoral registers in Great Britain report can be read on the Electoral Commission’s website
  • The Accuracy and Completeness data visualisation tool is available on the Electoral Commission’s website
  • The Commission estimates that between 8.3 million and 9.4 million eligible voters in Great Britain are not correctly registered at their current address. It is not possible to calculate the absolute number of people not correctly registered at their current address because the size of the population eligible to vote in Great Britain cannot be determined with certainty. The calculation is, therefore, based on an estimate of completeness and an estimate of the total eligible population. More information can be found on the Commission’s website
  • The accuracy and completeness studies assess the quality of the electoral registers following changes to electoral law, electoral administration and population changes. Data was collected via a house to house survey of 5,079 addresses across 127 local authority areas.
  • The quality of the electoral registers is measured in two main ways: their accuracy and their completeness
  • By accuracy we mean that ‘there are no false entries on the electoral registers’. Accuracy is therefore the measure of the percentage of entries on the registers which relate to verified and eligible voters who are resident at that address. Inaccurate register entries may relate to entries which have become redundant (for example, due to home movement), which are ineligible and have been included unintentionally, or which are fraudulent.
  • By completeness, we mean that ‘every person who is entitled to have an entry on an electoral register is registered’. Completeness refers to the percentage of eligible people who are registered at their current address. The proportion of eligible people who are not included on the register at their current address constitutes the rate of under-registration.
  • The Commission has also published a report on the Accuracy and Completeness of the electoral registers in Northern Ireland. This can be found on the Commission’s website.
  • The Commission’s previous accuracy and completeness study was published in August 2016. It found that the overall accuracy of electoral registers in Great Britain had increased following the completion of the move to Individual Electoral Registration in December 2015. The Commission’s research found that 16% of eligible voters were not correctly registered at their current address on 1 December 2015, representing as many as 8.3 million people.  More details can be found on our website.
  • The Electoral Commission has published the findings of its feasibility studies on modernising electoral registration. This can be found on the Commission’s website.

Notes to Editors

  • For more information contact the Electoral Commission press office on 020 7271 0704, out of office hours 07789 920 414 or press@electoralcommission.org.uk
  • 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 efficiency
  • The Commission was set up in 2000 and reports to the UK and Scottish Parliaments.