Almost a million voters – many of them young people and students – have disappeared from the electoral register in the past year, according to figures from the Electoral Commission. The register has fallen by 920,000 in the 10 months to December 2014, with some areas – including Cardiff and Oxford which both have large student populations – seeing falls of more than 10%. It amounts to a 2% reduction in the voter register overall. Critics have blamed the fall on a change in the way people are allowed to register. Previously, voters were able to apply by household but, because of concerns about voter fraud, the rules were changed and everyone now has to register individually. The quality of the electoral register as it is transferred from household to individual registration is so bad that the commission may warn against completing the transition to individual voter registration for all elections. A total of 117 local authorities reported falls between 3% and 12%.
Government ministers insist the numbers on the register have improved dramatically since December, in part because of simple online registration facilities and a registration drive that has been particularly successful among young voters. They also point out that the 2015 register will use the household register, and that the transfer to an individual register was first proposed by the Labour government. The government has put an extra £6.8m into the electoral registration drive.
The commission has previously found that approximately 7.5 million individuals are not registered.