City MP calls for automatic vote registration at 16
A BID will be launched today to put people on the electoral register as soon as they are issued with a National Insurance number amid concerns that around 350,000 citizens in Wales are not registered to vote.
Cardiff Central MP Jo Stevens will make the case for automatic voter registration and argue that the UK should follow the example of a host of other countries.
Ms Stevens’ proposals stand little chance of becoming law without Government support but she argues Wales has a chance to lead the way if the Assembly uses new powers to overhaul its voting system and introduces votes at 16.
The Electoral Reform Society estimates that in the 2015 election approximately 350,000 eligible potential voters in Wales were not signed up.
According to the Electoral Commission, around 10,500 people across the UK tried to vote in the June election despite not being registered.
Research suggests people from ethnic minorities are less likely to be registered to vote. The Electoral Commission found in 2014 that 85.9% of white people were on local government registers but only 76% of black citizens.
Ms Stevens said: “This is about enfranchisement. It’s about people being able to have their say about who represents them.
“It’s not acceptable that so many people are missing from the electoral register at the moment due to the complexity of having to register whenever you move, even if it’s within the same area. I want to see an automatic registration system that enfranchises everyone who’s entitled to vote, and make sure that everyone can have their say.”
Support for a change to the system has come from Jess Blair, director of the Electoral Reform Society in Wales.
She said: “At present electoral registration is so much more complicated than it needs to be. It makes perfect sense that when people are interacting with government, be it through the tax office, passport office or job centre, they can automatically be registered to vote.
“While an overall reform of the way people register to vote is needed, there are also simple solutions that can be put in place. For example, an easy way for people to check whether they are registered to vote is currently missing, as is the ability to register on the day of the election itself when you turn up to the polling station.”
Ms Stevens argues her proposals are a pragmatic way forward.
She said: “It’s a fairly simple proposal which operates in quite a number of countries around the world – Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Chile. And you just use existing data.
“Government has data on us anyway – the DVLA or HMRC. Everyone of us is issued with a National Insurance number at the age of 16 and there is no reason why you couldn’t simply be put onto an electoral register at that point.”
Ms Stevens suggested Wales could blaze a trail, saying: “The pressure is going to come because particularly if in Wales we [introduce] votes at 16, which I obviously hope we will do, then I would be hoping that both the Welsh Government and the Scottish Government would look at automatic voter registration as part of their electoral reform. If we have it in Wales and Scotland then we should have it in England too.”
This year, around 1.3 million people were added to the register in the weeks leading up to the snap election. According to the Electoral Commission, “an estimated 226,565 individuals applied to register after the registration deadline”.
Turnout in Wales was 69%, ahead of Northern Ireland (65.7%) and Scotland (67.1%) but behind England (69.3%).
A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: “The introduction of online registration resulted in a record number of applications and entries on the registers used for this year’s General Election. Individuals have the responsibility to register to vote themselves and the Government is not considering introducing automatic registration as this would go against the underlying principle of individual electoral registration.”