Part of my reasoning in The myth about 1 million people being wiped off electoral register: it’s not true was that with the change to individual electoral registration (IER) simply looking at the number of entries on the electoral register is of limited value as the move to IER is designed, in part, to flush out more of the dodgy or dated entries. So it would be foolish to assume that a change in the number of entries means a change in the number of individuals on the register. Clearing out defunct entries reduces the number of entries without removing the vote from anyone.
That said, the number of entries on the register isn’t completely unrelated to the number of people able to vote, and as it’s such a popular metric with people shouting ‘woe is us, the register totals are plunging’, let’s take their argument on its own terms and look at the totals on the register.
Since the December data for England and Wales was published, we’ve not had comprehensive new data. (Although there have been several new stories since then, scratch under the surface, and they’re all still using the December data.)
Until now, that is, with new data for Scotland. What does it show?
The electoral register grew, rather than shrank, between March 2014 and March 2015. In March 2015 it had 17,851 more entries than in March 2014 (+0.4%).*
Grew, not shrank.
The other point to note is that, as in England and Wales, the one-off absence of the usual annual dispatch of forms to all properties due to the transition to individual electoral registration seems to have caused some issues. But that is a one-off factor and in a way that fact that so many gremlins can be laid at its door is a good thing – as it means they are also gremlins that won’t be a part of the individual electoral registration system this year or in future years, with the resumption of the annual dispatch.
Coverage of this growth in the electoral register has been, well, muted. If you want to be generous, that’s because journalists have been too busy to notice, and there’s doubtless some truth in that.
The contrast between the million-myth served up by a Labour Party press release and then reported uncritically on the one hand and on the other the way these Scottish figures haven’t been given anything like the same attention does, even so, shine a harsh light on how much journalists rely on other people sending them press releases.
When it comes to positive figures about the state of our democracy, there is no Campaign for Democratic Optimism sending out press releases (even though there’s a goodly supply of information for it to feed off), making it easier for the the media to continue its addiction to overdosing on gloom.
* This March 2015 figure isn’t directly comparable to the register for the Scottish independence referendum as that included 16 and 17 year olds, who were able to vote in the referendum but can’t vote in a general election. The referendum figure also includes all the people who registered at the last minute before the deadline, a final surge which we haven’t yet had for 2015 and so isn’t in the 2015 figures. All of which means that the register being 145,593 lower than for the referendum isn’t comparing like with like for those two major reasons. Moreover, as the Electoral Commission’s detailed analysis of the numbers shows, the imminence of a referendum in which 16 and 17 year olds could vote means the number of attainers (those turning 18 in the next year) was relatively high in March 2014, thereby inflating that register total for 2014 and so making the fact that the March 2015 figures are higher than those, despite the absence now of that inflating figure, all the more significant.