Almost 800,000 potential voters were deleted from the electoral register under government changes to the system, official figures have confirmed. The Electoral Commission said about 770,000 names were removed from the register as the government introduced the requirement that people sign up as individuals rather than as households. Figures from the Office for National Statistics showed the overall register in December 2015 had shrunk by 600,000 names in the preceding 12 months, suggesting a voter registration drive over the same period was successful in getting people to sign up. But Labour said the huge number of deletions meant hundreds of thousands of people were at risk of disenfranchisement, highlighting a particular problem in university towns and among younger people who are almost eligible to vote. Overall, the electoral register is smaller by 1.6 million names than at its peak in 2012 when 46.4 million people were on the list.
The government argues that the names removed from the register do not represent real people but are out-of-date entries.
John Penrose, minister for constitutional reform, said: “Councils have only removed ‘ghost’ electors – people who have moved, died or never existed in the first place – so keeping them on the register when we know they shouldn’t be there, and then sending them all poll cards on election day, would be wrong, expensive and increase the risk of fraud.”
However, Gloria De Piero, Labour’s shadow minister for young people and voter registration, said the huge decline in voter numbers was “due to the Tory government’s rushed changes to electoral registration, against the advice of the independent Electoral Commission who warned it would result in thousands of people falling off the electoral register”.