The UK’s democracy has many problems. Important among these is the fact that swathes of the population don’t exercise their right to vote – something that’s both a consequence and, less directly, a cause of the growing public disenchantment with our political leaders. In the last general election, for example, turnout was just 65%; in May’s European elections, it was a paltry 34%. There are many reasons behind these low figures – and some of them, at least, have their roots in our electoral system. As the Coalition Agreement was being drawn up in 2010, the Liberal Democrats inserted a referendum on the Alternative Vote system of PR. This was soundly lost: they had accepted a timetable which ensured the referendum would coincide with both continued recession, and expanding austerity. But another electoral reform has survived: the shift from household to individual voter registration. … It is, therefore, essential that the new system makes joining the roll as easy as possible, creating the lowest possible barriers consistent with security against fraud. A key part of this accessibility is the ERTP’s online registration service, and this has now gone live.
Creating the service has demanded partnership working between the Cabinet Office, the Department for Work & Pensions, and local authorities – making it a crucial test case for the kind of collaboration that is at the heart of the public sector’s digital future. The result is an automated process that will populate the new rolls by cross-referencing councils’ electoral rolls with DWP data. Where they match, voters will be added to their local roll without the need for any action on their part.
… Over time, the online voter registration service will save money, because it’s cheaper to process an online registration than a paper-based one. Principally, though – as Cabinet Office minister Greg Clark said when launching the service – it is about bringing “voter registration into the 21st century and [making] it easier, simpler and faster for people to register to vote.”