Friday, April 09, 2010
Still Needed - A Full Franchise
The Electoral Commission estimates that some 3.5 million people who are eligible to vote are missing from electoral registers. That is almost 7% of the potential electorate. It is just assumed by many that we long since achieved a full franchise, but this has been in serious decline for a considerable period as we became a more mobile and, in many cases, a highly rootless society. There has also been a falling away of interest in Party politics, so registration although a legal obligation is low down in the priorities of many. The numbers missing from electoral registers are highest amongst those living in bed-sitter land, the homeless, the poor, ethnic minorities and the young.
Non-registration is a serious undermining of the franchise and means that in an average parliamentary constituency there are some 5,400 missing voters. But because the spread of non-registration is much higher in urban conurbations, there is also a serious distortion of the drawing of constituency boundaries.
Until the 20 April there is a brief opportunity for those who aren't yet registered to correct this. The avenues for doing this can be found here and here. This is only likely, however, to place a small proportion of the missing 3.5 million onto registers.
At one time it would not even have been possible for people to have qualified for late electoral registration. For the deadline for registration was set for a date in October, with the registers not coming into operation until the following February. This wasn't altered until 2000 when what was known as "rolling registration" first came into operation based on a number of unsuccessful Private Members Bill I introduced into the Commons from 1993 onwards. The "rolling register" principle was extended during the parliament which has just ended, allowing registration as late as 11 days before a General Election.
But much more needs to be done. We need extra facilities for Electoral Returning Officers so they can trace the movements of those entitled to vote and exchange information as people move to new electoral areas. With the use of computer technology in an information-packed world this can easily be done. Then Electoral Returning Officers need the type of investigative avenues I pressed for in the 1990s. They are contained in the Bills I introduced, although advances in technology over the past decade are needed to update my proposals. Then Electoral Returning Officers need to be given the duty (and the resources) to canvass the public in order to ensure the fullest franchise that is possible.
Even under the current arrangements, the polling cards should have been posted to voters by now. With publicity, this would have shown those who did not receive a card that something might be wrong. They would then have 11 days left to ensure their registration.
For other franchise problems see my earlier analysis - although I underestimated the number of those not registered.