Individual Electoral Registration (IER) came into effect across the UK from July 2014.
IER places the onus on the individual to register to vote rather than by household registration as before. It also places new burdens on individuals to produce proof of ID.
Every year, electors will need to check to see if they have been removed from the electoral roll, or not added to it, and will need to re-register with NI number and date of birth. This particularly affects "attainers" - (those turning 18), students or anyone who changes address.
Proponents claim this will improve the accuracy of the register and reduce electoral fraud. It is also claimed that allowing one person to register the whole household is "old fashioned", "patronising" and raises security and privacy issues.
If this claim about accuracy was really true, it would be true in other areas too. Yet curiously no-one seems to be claiming they can improve the decennial household Census with an individual based one. Probably because they know that the claim is complete nonsense!
Anyone with experience of collecting data knows if you increase the data collection points, you increase the complexity, the chances of inaccuracy and the administrative costs. This was one of the reasons why the poll tax failed. Corresponding with every elector rather than by household increases all these problems by three or more fold.
As for the privacy and security issues of household voter registration. Living with someone per se is a privacy and security issue. People who live together have to share risks of fraud in far more lucrative areas for a fraudster than voter registration, such as their personal possessions, banking details, ID & confidential mail etc. There is no real incentive for someone to fill in a household voter registration form inaccurately.
Also, if you opt people out of something and rely on them to opt back in, even when there are big incentives to opt in, default can be high. But we don't need theory to know IER will seriously deplete the electoral roll and votes cast. We have the experience in Northern Ireland where IER was rolled out in 2002.
From the 2001 general election to the 2005 general election, the number of votes cast in Northern Ireland fell by 13%. This was the first ever recorded fall for general elections in Northern Ireland and came despite votes cast across the rest of the UK increasing by 2% across those same elections.
The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee noted "the adverse impact that individual registration appears to have had on disadvantaged, marginalised and hard to reach groups, including young people and people with disabilities". The drop in turnout was "a cause for concern".
On the issue of voter impersonation fraud which IER is designed to address, the Electoral Commission noted that they had "received no evidence to suggest that this was an issue".
So, we had been warned about IER and also that voter impersonation fraud was not an issue.
Yet, voter impersonation fraud is still used as an excuse to defend IER. On this, I quote the words of one investigator into voter impersonation in the US "voter impersonation is rarer than being struck by lightning".
As we know, to have an effect on the result, fraud has to be widespread. This is impossible by voter impersonation without being pretty obvious.
Yet the one area where widespread fraud could be an issue is postal ballots. The most likely electoral fraudsters are the candidates who could collect postal ballots and forge signatures or alter votes. (Rather than mythical hordes impersonating voters at polling stations, which would be easy to spot). Curiously this is something the government haven't addressed despite real evidence that postal ballot fraud is a problem. In fact they have made postal ballot fraud more possible by allowing postal ballots for every voter, rather than just those voters who have difficulty voting in person.
At best, IER is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. And it probably misses the nut too!
For me, it is clear that the introduction of IER has nothing whatsoever to do with reducing electoral fraud.
I knew that IER would help the Tories electorally. But my analysis tells me the effects could be more immediate and shocking than I thought!
My focus has been on the distortion of the electoral roll, which will affect the drawing of constituency boundaries in 2018. Boundaries are drawn on registered voters not those eligible to vote. Because of this, IER is likely to increase the number of rural seats and decrease the number of urban seats. This is because registration has fallen more in poorer urban seats. The Tories do better in the more wealthier rural seats.
My analysis of Northern Ireland IER shows a huge drop in votes cast and not just the electoral roll numbers.
Due to the unique politics of Northern Ireland we can also see clearly the divide between how IER has impacted differently on nationalist and unionist turnout. A 14% drop in the nationalist vote compared to just 10% drop in the unionist vote. The nationalist community tend to be poorer and more marginalised.
We know that poorer people are more likely to rent rather than own property. And renters are more likely to move more often and consequently be taken off the electoral roll by IER. We also know renters are more likely to support left of centre parties in the UK.
If these figures are transposed to the UK, it could mean a 0.6% gain for the Tories over Labour nationally and probably higher in marginal and Labour held seats. Around 16 seats have less than a 0.6% majority. The number of votes cast nationally could drop by over 3m and this despite population growth of 2m since 2010. Turnout last time was just under 30m votes. This is the figure to watch.
In Brighton and Hove, a drop in turnout will hit the Greens hardest. Particularly the young and students falling off the register. Especially since the scandalous and completely indefensible decision to end the block registering of students in halls of residence that Universities automatically carried out previously.
Council leader Jason Kitcat and Brighton and Hove council are doing their best to encourage registration with a widespread advertising campaign, but they are fighting against a flawed system.
Voting should be an automatic right, not something you're made to jump through hoops to get.
Votes cast could fall by as many as 20,000 across the City. A drop of 7,000 in Brighton Pavilion alone, more than half of those potential Green supporters.
Since Caroline Lucas's majority is just 1,600 votes, they should be very worried by this. With Hove and Kemptown also marginals with small majorities between Tory and Labour, all 3 seats here could be affected by IER.
The Tories knew exactly what they were doing introducing IER. Together with 5 year fixed terms and boundary enlargements passed for 2018, this is another measure that has eroded democracy and accountability. Shocking that the Lib Dems have also supported these measures.
These measures bring us closer to seat majorities "won" on 29% of the vote, as envisioned recently by Lord Ashcroft.
Also, these measures coupled with the rise of the SNP and UKIP, Labour might need a substantial lead in votes to gain the same seats as the Tories. Inverting the situation of 2005 and 2010, so bemoaned by the Tories. Food for thought to those short sighted tribal Labourites so pleased with first-past-the-post.