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Household registration was replaced in Northern Ireland by a system of Individual electoral registration introduced by the Electoral Fraud (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 as a response to concerns about electoral fraud. The ‘carry forward’ of electors who do not respond to a canvass form but who are nevertheless added onto the next year’s register was also abolished in 2002. The number of names on the new register in December 2002 fell by around 10.5% compared with the December 2001 register and in 2005 the ‘carry-forward’ was reinstated in time for the 2005 general election.

In 2006 the annual canvass was abolished in Northern Ireland and a system of continuous registration introduced; the Chief Electoral Officer was now required to keep the register up to date by using information provided to him by specified public bodies.

A report by the Electoral Commission on continuous electoral registration in Northern Ireland, published in November 2012, found that there had been ‘a significant and worrying decline in both the accuracy and completeness of Northern Ireland’s electoral register’ since 2008. The Commission has recommended ‘an immediate and sustained programme of action…to address and reverse the trend’, including contact with every household in Northern Ireland to verify and update entries on the register and to identify new eligible electors. This Note gives further details of the Commission’s report.

The Electoral Registration and Administration Bill 2012-13 currently before Parliament makes provision for the introduction of individual electoral registration in Great Britain; the annual canvass is retained but the Bill gives the power to the Secretary of State to amend, abolish or reinstate it at a later date.

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