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In Great Britain the administration of electoral registration is handled at local authority level by statutory officers, Electoral Registration Officers. A new system of individual electoral registration (IER) was introduced in 2014 to address concerns about electoral fraud and the integrity of the register. Electoral registration in Northern Ireland has been on an individual basis since 2002. There continues to be concern about the completeness of the register and there have been some calls for automatic electoral registration.  Automatic registration would probably require a central electoral register. A centralised registration system, including software and administration, is likely to be difficult and costly to develop. Central registration was attempted some years ago, the CORE system, but this was abandoned. The Labour Government had attempted to create a locally compiled but centrally held electoral registration database in 2005, but the project was abandoned by the Coalition Government in 2011. The provisions relating to CORE in the Electoral Administration Act 2006 and Political Parties and Elections Act 2009 were repealed by the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013.

There have been concerns about personal data being collected centrally; the ONS conducted some research into public attitudes towards providing population statistics and the use of administrative data in 2014. It found that people generally did not object to data being held by other government departments being shared but there were objections about privacy and security. Another potential issue with automatic registration is that there will always be some citizens who do not want to be registered to vote and participate in the democratic process. Some may also view automatic registration as a step towards compulsory voting, which has been resisted in the UK.

The Electoral Commission published an Assessment of December 2015 electoral registers in Great Britain: End of transition to Individual Electoral Registration in February 2016. The report commented on the continuing challenge of increasing population churn in producing an accurate and full register and some of the new challenges, including getting attainers to register now that the onus is on them to register under IER. In chapter 6, ‘Looking ahead’, the Commission commented on the Government’s plans to pilot schemes to improve the efficiency of delivering electoral registration under IER:

  1. Options under consideration include more effective use of local and national data to capture population churn and amending the annual canvass process by removing certain stages (e.g. the requirement to send a second reminder), or encouraging online responses [see para 6.21].

The Commission said that it welcomed the principle of alternative approaches through piloting but it warned:

  1. The aims and objectives of the schemes must be well-defined and clearly stated, and include clear evaluation criteria to enable a proper assessment of their impact on the completeness and accuracy of the electoral register; the convenience of electoral registration for electors; and the costs of the electoral registration process. It will be important to build a coherent strategic framework of pilot schemes, and minimise the risk of uncoordinated schemes which deliver little by way of evidence and learning. [para 6.23]

The draft Electoral Registration Pilot Scheme (England) Order 2016 was laid before the House of Commons on 26 May 2016. The Order establishes a pilot scheme giving Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) in specified areas of England wider discretion over the manner in which they conduct the annual canvass of electors under section 9D of the Representation of the People Act 1983. EROs in the pilot areas will still be under a duty to conduct an annual canvass of electors but for the period of the pilot they will have the freedom to determine how they wish to do so.

Overseas, automatic voter registration is not widespread. Where there is automatic registration this is mostly done using population registers, often mandatory, or census information and some are only part automatic. For example, in Canada voters can opt out of central automatic registration, but those that do have to register manually for each election. In Denmark, the computerised electoral register is based on information already available in the national civil registration system (administered by the Ministry of the Interior) and voter registration is automatic.

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