Electoral registration was introduced by the Reform Act of 1832. Originally, there were separate ‘voters lists’ for local and Parliamentary elections, mainly because different rules applied to each: Burgess Rolls list people entitled to vote in local government elections; Parliamentary Registers list people entitled to vote in Parliamentary elections; Parochial Registers list people who are entitled to vote in parish council elections.
In general, until 1918 the laws governing who could vote in local elections were more liberal than for Parliamentary elections – for example, from 1869 unmarried rate-paying women could vote for local councillors, but not for Members of Parliament.
Since 1918, a single Register has been compiled annually for each constituency – except for 1916-17 (1915-17 in Scotland) and 1940-1944 when none were published. In 1868, 1885, 1919-1926 and 1945-1946, two were published each year. Only those on the register were, and are, entitled to vote. From 2003, it has been possible to opt out of the public edition of the register. They are arranged by Parliamentary Division, then by address (pre-1878 is often arranged alphabetically by voters’ surnames). They list every person qualified to vote, give addresses and (before 1918) details of the property giving the qualification.
A copy of the current voter’s lists will be found at the relevant local library or archives. A national set, from 1947, is kept at the British Library and is currently being digitised by Findmypast with a reasonable collection of earlier registers. The National Archives of Scotland holds some Electoral Registers for Scotland and the National Library of Wales holds many for Wales. The whereabouts of copies of the historic registers are listed in Electoral registers since 1832; and Burgess Rollss (3rd edn, Family History Partnership, 2008) by Gibson & Rogers. Findmypast first placed historic Electoral Registers online in 2011. Ancestry followed in 2012 with London Electoral Registers covering 1835 to 1965.
Electoral register for Finsbury, London, 1875