Why you should ignore all the news reports about the size of the new electoral register

Given how many times I’ve blogged about the move to individual electoral registration, I guess I should blog about the new electoral register figures and what they tell us.

But I’ve given up trying to because of one basic fact: lots of numbers have been published and no-one has a clue what they really mean.

What we do know is that the total number of entries on the electoral register has fallen. But what we don’t know is either context or meaning.

We don’t know context because it’s natural to expect there could be a cycle in electoral register entries through the Parliamentary election cycle (with interest in getting registered peaking before an election and declining after). So to understand what has happened before and after a general election itself, you really need numbers going back many years to be able to spot any such Parliamentary cycle. But no-one – not the ONS, not the Electoral Commission and not any media outlets who like to tout data journalism – is doing that.

So is the latest fall bigger, smaller or the same as what we should expect given previous cycles in the size of the register? Not a clue. The only wisdom to be had is knowing you don’t know.

Then there is a question about what the decline in the total number of entries on the register means even if we knew the context.

That could be due to people who are legally entitled to register and vote falling off the register and losing their right to vote. (That’d be bad news.)

It could also be a reduction in the number of duplicate entries for people who are legally entitled to be registered in two places, such as university students who can be registered at home and at university. (That’s be a so-so news as they’d still have one right to vote rather than being disenfranchised totally.)

Or it could be the removal of defunct entries, such as for people who have died. (That’d be a good news.)

So what balance between the bad, the so-so and the good is there in these figures? Again, no-one has a clue. Again, the only wisdom is to be had in knowing you don’t know.

Sorry, ignorance is all I have to offer.


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gavin grant
gavin grant

I did some work on my own Unitary Ward in North Wiltshire. The drop in registration is about 3-4%., in line with the broad average. Looking at the detail I see a pattern of young voters in households disappearing and a disproportionate drop in social housing areas. The former may be explained by registration at University (many of these young people did not vote here in 2015). In many ways the latter is even more worrying. I've also looked specifically at a particular group of vulnerable people who attended a Christmas event and tend to live in local social housing. Out of 27 eligible voters 9 are no longer on the Electoral Register. Many of these people struggle with form filling and bureaucracy. This in the year when we elect our Police and Crime Commissioner and define our future in Europe. Working with local community groups we'll ensure those people can have their say. But I wonder how just how many other vulnerable, isolated and marginalised people elsewhere have had their voices silenced in this way? I suspect it's a very large number and is a disgrace.


@gavin grant This is deeply unconvincing. If the 'vulnerable' people you speak of cannot cope with a simple form, how will they cope with a ballot paper and would they be capable of making an informed electoral choice? Personally I am content for those whose inclinations are against making the minimal effort required to register, or to vote, to be discounted. If they are that uninterested, they wouldn't make a considered choice anyway. Their real inclination is to abstain and for that they should be respected not harassed.

There have been serious dysfuntions in our electoral practice in this country including vast over-registration of those moving among rented properties, false registrations and personation. Individual registration is an entirely rational, reasonable and unremarkable fix for many of these difficulties. It is simply not true to suggest that the cure is wose than the disease when we are taling about the integrity of our democracy.

We also all know that certain parties habitually take advantage of vulnerable people through their supporters among public sector employess 'helping' them to vote and marshalling the postal votes of those in communal housing. If the new system helps break up that racket by lowering thge numbers of registered voters who can be abused like this, it will be another gain for democracy.


I guess we will not know till an election, May? is held. Then the disenfranchised  should be found out by the complaints forwarded to the authorities and the other detailswill be more clear.


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