Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Death Of The Franchise

The latest Report of the Electoral Commission shows that there are now six million people missing from electoral registers. The numbers of missing voters are especially high amongst the young, ethnic minorities, the poor and the mobile/rootless. One consequence is that the electoral boundaries which are currently being redrawn will be massively distorted as those missing from registers are not evenly spread throughout society. Overall, it will fiddle election results - disenfranchising many of those most in need.

This is the BBC's coverage of the Report
: it provides a link to the full report itself.

What is needed to overcome this democratic disgrace is a proactive registration system which uses modern technology to track people and provide for full and regular canvassing by registration officials. To ensure that young people who have just attained registration rights are not excluded, the voting age should be dropped to 16 and the initial registrations should take place via their schools whilst they are still 15. The sale of electoral registers to commercial interests should be banned, as some people avoid registration to hide their details from those who are, say, pursuing them for debt re-payments.

In the 1992-93 Parliamentary Session, I ran a Private Members Bill which attempted to tackle the above problem. I had the support of the then Labour Leader, the late John Smith; whilst even Tony Blair as Shadow Home Secretary pressed for its support. But it was defeated by the Conservative Government. My proposals were stimulated by the negative impact which the Poll Tax had had on electoral registration. Technology has been transformed in the past 20 years, so the details of my proposals now need to be brought up to date. Nor at this initial stage had I seen the relevance of "votes at 16" to my proposals.

I went on to press the issue regularly in other legislative attempts; especially in the 1999-2000 Parliamentary Session, when I put up a stream of what I saw as "improving amendments" to what became Labour's Representation of the People's Act. The Act did, however, introduce a weak version of one of my proposals which was for Rolling Electoral Registration. This allows people to transfer their registration to their new residence when they move, rather than having to wait until a full new register is being constructed. The measure has only ever had a slight impact on the safeguarding of electoral registration. It is swept aside by other factors.

The Labour Frontbench needs to pick up the issue and act (in a modern setting) upon the type of principles I started to propound almost 20 years ago.

Whilst democracy requires much more than a system of one person one vote, it must be based on that principle.

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