Largest ever electoral register in Northern Ireland but reform of electoral canvass is needed

Overview

Over 1.36 million people have registered to vote in Northern Ireland, following last year’s canvass, the largest number of registered voters ever recorded in Northern Ireland. However a new report on the electoral canvass from the Electoral Commission warns the canvass needs reform in order to deliver and maintain an accurate and complete electoral register. 

The Commission reports that the electoral register, published on 1 December 2021, contained a total of 1,368 million registered voters. This is an increase from 1,329 million before the canvass commenced in July 2021. 

While the number of registered voters has increased, the current registration system continues to struggle with population movement. Many of the wards with the lowest registration rates are found in areas with the most mobile populations. Age also remains a significant factor in rates of registration, with the under 20s having the lowest estimated levels of registration at only 57%, compared with 88% and over for all other age ranges. 

In order to address this the report calls on the UK Government to reform the canvass process to enable a more cost-effective and targeted canvass that better reaches under-registered groups. 

Cahir Hughes, Head of the Electoral Commission Northern Ireland, said:

We welcome the fact that so many people registered to vote, but the registration canvass in its current format is not an efficient tool for maintaining accurate and complete electoral registers."

“Changes are needed to enable better use of trusted public data to allow for more targeted canvass activity. The use of data already plays a key role in the provision of services across the public and private sectors. Making better use of the existing data already available to help manage the register could improve the delivery of canvass in the future."
 

Overview continued

For anyone who didn’t respond to the canvass last year or whose details have changed there is still time to register to vote for the Northern Ireland Assembly election on 5 May. The deadline to register is midnight 14 April. People can register online at gov.uk/register-to-vote.

The full report on the Northern Ireland electoral registration canvass 2021 is available on the Commission's website.

Ends

For more information contact the Electoral Commission press office on 028 9089 4029, out of office hours 07789 920 414 or press@electoralcommission.org.uk

Notes to editors

  1. The requirement to conduct a canvass is set out in law. During the canvass every eligible elector is required to apply to register to vote – even if they are already registered. 
  2. The Chief Electoral Officer, supported by the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland (EONI), is responsible for managing the canvass. As part of the canvass, the EONI contacted every household, encouraging all eligible electors to respond to the canvass by registering to vote. The canvass started on 1 July 2021 and ran until the revised electoral register was published by the Chief Electoral Officer on 1 December 2021.
  3. 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, Scottish and Welsh parliaments. 

  4. The Electoral Commission ran a multimedia voter registration campaign from 1 July to 23 October 2021 to support the canvass. Our campaign reminded everyone that the register was being updated and that they shouldn’t ignore the canvass - even if they had been registered before. 
  5. Estimated population figures have been used to calculate the estimated registration rates. The calculation assumes that, at the conclusion of the canvass, the register had a very high level of accuracy, i.e. nearly everyone on the register was registered at their correct, current address.