City MP calls for au­to­matic vote reg­is­tra­tion at 16

South Wales Echo - - NEWS -

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.”

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