Welsh MP in bid to en­sure every­one gets chance to vote

Western Mail - - NEWS - David Wil­liamson Po­lit­i­cal edi­tor david.wil­liamson@waleson­line.co.uk

ABID 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 about 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 is miss­ing, as is the abil­ity to regis­ter on the day of the elec­tion when you turn up to the polling sta­tion.”

Cardiff Cen­tral’s 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. Ev­ery one 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 on to 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 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 1.3m 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”.

> Jo Stevens MP

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