Millions of people could be robbed of the right to vote because of new rules introduced to try to prevent fraud, an MP has warned.
Younger people are particularly like to be hit by the changes, said Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott.
And in Sunderland, the new system had led to more than 6,000 voters falling off the electoral register, the MP said.
Leading a Commons debate, she urged the Government to rethink the introduction of a new system called individual voter registration.
This was introduced in an attempt to tackle growing concern about voting fraud, following a scandal in Birmingham in 2004 where a five Labour councillors used bogus postal votes to try to counter the adverse impact of the Iraq war on the party’s support.
Judge Richard Mawrey QC found there had been “massive, systematic and organised” postal voting fraud “that would disgrace a banana republic”.
The old system in which one person fills in a registration form for the entire household has now been scrapped.
Instead, each voter now has to register individually and provide identifying information such as a date of birth and national insurance number.
But Mrs Elliott warned that some people did not have National Insurance numbers matched to their home address, and could find themselves unable to register.
She told MPs:
“I agreed in principle with individual voter registration, but that it had to be implemented in a way that works. The new system, however, is simply being rushed through.
“My fear is that because the changes are being done at speed, and because of the lack of funding available to implement them, they will disfranchise millions of people. That does not improve our democracy at all.”
“The groups being disfranchised that I am most concerned about are: students and young people; people who live in the private rented sector; and adults with no dependent children who are not yet claiming pensions or not on benefits.”
Mrs Elliott told MPs that Sunderland was a university city and became home to thousands of young people in term time.
“Their national insurance number is often registered to the address of their parents’ home, so if they tried to go on the electoral register where they are students the data would not match.”
People who moved home frequently, or had never had any contact with the benefits system, might also have National Insurance numbers registered to the wrong address she said.
Some voters could also be disenfranchised because of mistakes in the National Insurance system, she said.
And she highlighted warnings from officials in Sunderland City Council, which oversees elections in the city, that the number of registered voters had fallen by 6,128 people since the new system came in.
Cabinet Office Minister Sam Gyimah said the changes were designed to ensure details on the electoral reister were correct.
“We must be mindful of the pitfalls of introducing a new method of registering to vote, and we should focus on the completeness and accuracy of the register. Much has been said about the need for the register to be complete, and the Government and I agree with everyone on the need for that, but we cannot ignore the importance of accuracy. Without an accurate register, we risk undermining the very elections on which the system is based, so we must not simply sweep away the importance of accuracy.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 23 Oct 2014