Individual electoral registration: Northern Ireland shows that the annual canvass must be kept

One of the key disputes over how individual electoral registration should be introduced in England, Scotland and Wales is whether having people join and leave the register regularly through the year, alongside better use of other information about people moving (e.g. prompting people who take out a new TV license to register), would mean that the once-a-year check on all addresses – the ‘annual canvass’ – can be dropped.

The Electoral Commission has just published the results of its research into how individual electoral registration has been working in Northern Ireland since its introduction there in 2002. The conclusion? An annual canvass must be kept.

Following the introduction of IER in Northern Ireland in 2002 the requirement for an annual canvass was removed in 2006, which meant that electors were registered once and only had to re-register if their personal details changed. This research looked at the effectiveness of continuous registration in Northern Ireland.

The report shows that the electoral register is now 71% complete and 78% accurate. The previous assessment carried out in 2008 estimated the register to be 83% complete and 94% accurate. The current findings suggest that the reason for this significant decline is because the processes currently employed by the Chief Electoral Officer to manage the register under continuous registration are unable to keep pace with either people moving home or people becoming newly eligible to join the register…

The Electoral Registration and Administration Bill, currently before the UK Parliament, provides for the annual canvass to remain in Great Britain following the introduction of IER. It is therefore likely that Great Britain will avoid the main problems of continuous registration that have been experienced in Northern Ireland.

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