As the General Election approaches it is important for the democratic process that the electoral register in Croydon is as accurate as possible. A new registration system came in in June last year based on individual household registration, with potential electors having to provide a date of birth and a National Insurance Number which the electoral registration staff then had to verify with the Department of Work and Pensions.
In a report to the Council's General Purpose and Audit Committee on 28 January, Nathan Elvery, the Acting Returning Officer, reports that about 60% of electors automatically were transferred from the old to the new register. Over 32,214 invitations to register had to be sent out. His staff are continuing to encourage people to register, the closing date re-the General Election being 20 April. Letters will go to everyone in February and poll cards issued by 10 April with publicity to encourage those without poll cards to register. He is also in discussions with Operation Black Vote which wants to tour its voter registration bus in Croydon for a day. He does not make any reference to working with Bite the Ballot campaign on its National Voter Registration Day on 5 February.
Elvery’s report does not contain any detailed statistics so that it is difficult to tell which wards in the Borough are the ones most likely to have lower levels of electoral registration. Such levels may well be linked with high levels of private rented, especially multiple-occupation, where tenants move frequently because of short tenancies. There is also the problem of the households in which no one speaks or reads English.
It is to be hoped that Councillors on the Committee will consider asking the following questions:
- What are the figures for the number of registered electors in each ward on the 2014 register for the local elections and on the one for the forthcoming?
- What is the estimated shortfall of registered electors by ward on the new register?
- How many potential electors in each ward are still being contacted?
- How many people in each ward have been fined for not registering?
- What steps have been taken to request known landlords and lettings agents to help notify tenants of their electoral registration rights and obligations?
- Have Building Control officers been asked to supply the ARO with details of conversions and new build homes expected to be completed by 10 April so that any incoming residents can be contacted by 20 April?
- How much extra money has been given to the Borough by the Government for electoral registration and how much is allocated for extra activity in each ward or to special additional measures?
- What actions does the ARO propose to take on National Voter Registration Day organised by the Bite the Ballot campaign on 5 February, such as requesting Heads of every school in the Borough to pass information through their pupils to parents, requesting Heads of secondary schools to run special sessions with older pupils on the importance of voter registration, and taking taking part in the TickIt campaign workshop meeting at Croydon BME Forum?
- Has the ARO had discussions with the Bite the Ballot campaign on the appointment of a Community Engagement Officer to help with encouraging young people to register to vote?
According to the Electoral Reform Society ‘the Electoral Commission's latest analysis shows that "areas with a high concentration of certain demographics – students, private renters and especially young adults" – are particularly in danger of having low registration numbers. Unrepresentative electoral registers will lead to unrepresentative constituencies. Being unregistered doesn’t mean you don’t deserve support from your MP. Under the current proposals urban and socially deprived areas where registration is low are likely to have fewer MPs per person than affluent areas where registration is high.’
Ed Miliband, the Labour Leader, has expressed concern that the new method of enrolling people on electoral registers may have lost 1m people. His figure is based on an analysis of 373 local authorities showing in 307 authorities a 1,016,024 fall in the number of registered voters in 2015 compared with 2014. Overall the fall is 950,845 voters. The reductions are heavily concentrated in university towns and cities. In a letter he sent out in January, including to local authority Leaders his suggestions for extra efforts to be taken to identify unregistered electors included: ‘Writing a letter to your Electoral Registration Officer to ask for information, ward-by-ward, of rates of registration, to target areas with significant drop-off.’