Labour plans to reform electoral system by introducing automatic voter registration

Young people are the most likely to be voiceless in the UK’s current political system.

Under plans to add millions more people to the electoral roll for future elections, Labour is proposing to introduce automatic voter registration (AVR).

The plans, which were first reported in the Guardian, would be part of a set of electoral reforms already announced by Labour, including extending the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds.

Under AVR, people are automatically added to the electoral roll from other records, such as passport or tax data. This contrasts with the current system, in which people need to register to be able to vote.

It is estimated that 7 to 8 million people are either incorrectly recorded or missing on current registers. Many of these people are from poorer households, live in privately rented homes, or are young.

As younger people are historically more likely to vote Labour, introducing AVR is likely to benefit the party.

In Wales, the devolved Labour government is already trialling the change to voter registration to determine which is the best method. Welsh Conservatives have opposed the plan, claiming automatic registration could cause “confusion” and people should be able to register themselves without any problems.

AVR has been adopted in other countries. In the US state of Colorado, home to around 6 million people, the introduction of the scheme added 200,000 new votes to the electoral register in one year. In Sweden, those on a population register compiled by tax authorities are automatically registered. They are sent a polling card 30 days before election day. Around 96 percent of eligible voters are registered in Sweden.

Unlock Democracy, which campaigns for a democratic society that ensures equality and justice for all, advocates for an automatic voter registration system.

In its report entitled: Register Every Voter: How Automatic Voter Registration Can Bring the Forgotten Millions Back into our Democracy, the organisation sets out how reforms to the electoral system can increase the number of citizens on the electoral register for a ‘stronger and more inclusive democracy.’

The report notes how young people are the most likely to be voiceless in the UK’s political system, as compared to just one in twenty of the over 65s, a third of 18 – 19-year-olds are not correctly registered to vote. The report also highlights how registration rates for white voters are at 87 percent, but for black voters, it is just 72 percent, a figure that has fallen in the last five years.

People living in rental homes are less likely to be registered to vote. More than 4 in 10 people living in private rented accommodation were not correctly registered, compared to less than 1 in 10 of those who owned their own home.

2024 is the first general election in Britain where voters have been made to take photo ID to the polling station. The voter ID rules were rushed through parliament for the local elections in May 2023. The new system has been widely criticised by MPs, the election watchdog, and election administrators, namely because some marginalised groups, including the unemployed and disabled people, have found it more difficult than others to show accepted ID.

Labour opposed the introduction of mandatory photo ID for voting but does not plan to eliminate it. Instead, the party’s manifesto promises to “address the inconsistencies in voter ID rules”.

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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