Are the BBC Correct?
Today on her blog, Louise Baldock throws doubt upon a BBC claim that a million people will be missing from electoral registers if a General Election is called in the near future. I think that she is mistaken.
She feels that the BBC's claim fails to take account of the system of rolling electoral registration which was introduced under legislation in 2000. This enables people who move, to transfer their registration to their new locality without having to wait for the annual update of the electoral registers.
When I was an MP I was fully involved in the events which led up to the introduction of rolling electoral registers. Jack Staw was the Minister responsible for the Bill and he stated that the measure would probably never have been introduced but for my efforts.
What Is The Problem?
But whilst the rolling register is an improvement, it does not tackle the core of the problem of non-registration. For those already registered, it is essentially a passive system which requires a person who moves to take the initiative in achieving the transfer of their registration. It is possible to imagine a much more pro-active set of arrangements being put in place to ensure this end.
There is, however, a much bigger problem which needs to be tackled about under-registration. Large numbers of people don't register to vote in the first place. So the rolling register does not aid them. This occurs in poorer areas, including those settled by ethic minorities. It is also prevalent in areas where people move about in a rootless way and often depend on bed-sitter accommodation.
Again we need a pro-active system to trace and register the BBC's missing million. Full canvassing by electoral registration officers needs to become the norm. A compulsory Identity Card system could also be constructed in ways to tackle the problem.
It May Be Worse Than The BBC Are Claiming.
When I was an MP, I periodically used the excellent facilities of the Commons Library to gain accurate estimates of the extent (and areas) of under-registration. I no longer have access to this service. But from my past experiences, I feel that the BBC figure of a missing million is likely to be a modest one.
Unfortunately, my efforts to amend the Bill in 2000 to take account of the above factors failed. But until this serious gap in our electoral registration system in filled, we will not have achieved the major objective of the Chartists and the Suffragettes.