Julie Elliott MP

Standing up for Sunderland Central

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Article for Politics Home - Individual Voter Registration threatens democracy

A key indicator of a healthy, functioning democracy is the ease of the system that allows as many people as possible to vote. In its current form, the implementation of the Individual Electoral Register appears to make it harder for people to vote.

Individual Voter Registration requires people to register to be on the electoral register on an individual basis. This puts at risk the right to vote for three large and important groups: students and young people, private renters, and those in full time work with grown up children.

Individual Voter Registration requires people to register to be on the electoral register on an individual basis. This puts at risk the right to vote for three large and important groups: students and young people, private renters, and those in full time work with grown up children.

Young people and students, who tend to be more transient in nature, are already difficult to register; Individual Voter Registration makes that job harder, not easier. At a time when disenfranchisement from the political process is increasing amongst young people, who see tuition fees rising and the job market hardening, this is simply unacceptable.

Another significant group of people who have the potential to not data match with Department for Work and Pensions records are those working with no dependent children, and not claiming any benefits.

Individual Voter Registration was piloted by the Government, matching people with DWP data. The results of that pilot were shocking – 8.7 million people could not be matched against records held by DWP.

The accuracy of DWP data matching is enormously problematic. As an MP, I get casework relating to those inaccuracies. People with an incorrect national insurance number, who only find out there is an issue when they apply for something such as child benefit. Whilst MPs are there to iron out these issues for our constituents, it illustrates the point that DWP data is far from unimpeachable. It’s bad enough when it causes delays. It is completely unacceptable if it denies people their right to vote.

One pilot took place in my city, Sunderland. Roughly half the people data-matched to DWP records in a city that has a relatively static population. In Lancaster University, an electoral ward in the City of Lancaster, just 0.1% of the electorate could be matched by the DWP database.

Electoral fraud is a crime, and where it takes place it should be tackled aggressively by the police. But since 1999, there has been only one significant case of electoral registration fraud resulting in a custodial sentence. 11 million people did not vote in the last general election and up to 8.5 million were not even registered to vote. The greater threat to our democracy is not electoral registration fraud, but disenfranchisement.

My constituency of Sunderland Central has high electoral register rates because our local authority is organised, and we provide the right resources for elections and electoral registers to be as accurate as possible. Whilst we are proud that our seats are the first to declare on election night, we are prouder still that we get as many people as possible registered to vote. Even in Sunderland, we know that many people will fall off the register under this new system. They will still live in the city – they will simply not be registered to vote.

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