Thousands of the region’s teenagers risk losing their right to vote in the general election after a Government blunder, MPs are warning.
Local authorities are failing to register “attainers” – 17-year-olds who could be adults by May 7 – after errors in letters drafted by the Cabinet Office, they say
Now figures reveal an extraordinary 80 per cent fall in attainers on the books of just one council, County Durham.
If the slump – of just over 3,000, in just one year – is replicated across the region, it would mean that close to 20,000 first-time voters could lost their vote.
The controversy was raised in a recent Commons debate by Kevan Jones, the North Durham MP, who described the situation as a “scandal”.
In North Durham constituency, there were 647 attainers on the register in February last year, but that number has plummeted to just 126 one year later – after the mistake.
The pattern is repeated in Bishop Auckland (a fall from 662 attainers to 118), Durham City (from 625 to 177), Easington (from 641 to 95), North West Durham (from 689 to 156) and in Sedgefield (from 513 to 97).
Mr Jones said:
“We could put the fall down to a drop in the birth rate in 1997 – clearly there was a lack of passion in North Durham – but that is obviously not the case.”
And he said:
“That must be done, otherwise many 17-year-olds who will turn 18 before May 7 will assume that they will get a vote, but will not get it.”
Under the old system, where the head of the household registered all voters, a section of the form asked for the names of any 17-year-olds to be added.
But the sentence is missing from letters sent out under the new system – of individual electoral registration (IER) – which is being introduced to combat fraud.
In reply, the deputy Commons leader Tom Brake, promised to write to Mr Jones, but stopped short of agreeing to instruct – and fund – town halls, to correct the problem.
Meanwhile, Bishop Auckland MP Helen Goodman criticised a separate barrier in the way of young people attempting to register – the requirement to provide a national insurance number.
She told ministers:
“A letter with a young person’s national insurance number arrives before they are 16 and we are suggesting that two years later teenagers will know where that letter is and have kept it in a safe place. I cannot think of anything more naïve.”
Source – Northern Echo, 16 Feb 2015
Tens of thousands of potential voters in the North East have dropped off the electoral register in what has been described as a “crisis of democratic engagement” in the UK.
In a series of worrying figures, one blackspot has been revealed as Newcastle where 18,000 have dropped off the register.
Worst affected is the Ouseburn ward in Newcastle East, home to many students, where there has been a 55% drop off of registered voters totalling 9,982, in the last year alone.
At the 2010 general election, Labour MP Nick Brown won Newcastle East with a 4,453 majority.
Other areas highlighted include Gateshead with a 12,962 drop off, Sunderland with 5,776 and Derwentside in Durham with 3,280.
They are among approximately 7.5 million people nationwide who are missing from national registers.
Labour leader Ed Miliband said: “This is not just a scandal, it is a disaster for our democracy.”
With the May 2015 general election fast approaching, efforts are being stepped up to get as many enrolled as possible before the April 20 deadline.
Independent campaign group Bite The Ballot highlighted the situation by designating last Thursday as National Voter Registration Day in a bid to get 250,000 to register.
> Last Thursday, eh ? Did you know that ? No, nor me.
I wonder how many of those missing voters it actually reached ?
Meanwhile the Electoral Commission has arranged for a reminder to appear on the Facebook page of every UK user of the social network.
It follows the Commission’s discovery – through polling by YouGov – that four in 10 people, and more than half (53%) of 18 to 24-year-olds, remain unaware that they can register to vote online.
Almost one million people have dropped off the electoral register since the implementation of Individual Electoral Registration (IER) last summer, mostly students, first time voters and those living in private rented accommodation and those from newer immigrant communities.
As a result of IER, rather than one person in a household registering everyone or a university signing up all its students in halls, each individual is now responsible for registering themselves. In addition, they have to supply a National Insurance number.
A Commons committee used the focus to renew its demands that government consider radical reforms to boost engagement and election turnout, including online voting, weekend elections, polling-day registration and a “none of the above” option.
> A “none of the above” option would be good. I’d go further and link the number of none of the above votes nationally to MP’s pay. The more there are, the less the MPs get.
At the 2010 general election, 16 million eligible voters – 34.9% of the electorate did not take part – more than voted for any one party.
Graham Allen MP, chairman of the Commons political and constitutional reform committee, said:
“This is not an acceptable state of affairs for a modern democracy.
“If we do not take urgent action to make elections more accessible to the public and convince them that it is worth voting we will be facing a crisis of democratic engagement.”
A Cabinet Office spokesman said:
“Over one million 16-24-year-olds have registered since the new system was introduced, and everyone else is being contacted directly and encouraged to use the new convenient online registration system. We’re also providing over £14 million of funding to support the costs of activities at a local and national level to maximise the number of people on the register.”
How to register
If you are 16 or over you can register through the Government website, www.gov.uk/register-to-vote .
You’ll need your National Insurance number, and the registration process takes around five minutes. It can also be done by post.
The process is also explained on the Bite the Ballot website on www.bitetheballot.co.uk/nvrd/
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 07 Feb 2015
More than 230,000 people across the region are at risk of losing their right to vote, under a radical elections shake-up.
They are on course to drop off electoral rolls because of moves to require residents to register individually, rather than allowing one person to sign up an entire household.
Before the switch – to combat electoral fraud – election chiefs have sought to “match” voters from existing databases, automatically transferring names they can verify.
But, in County Durham alone, 45,989 people – or 11 per cent of the adult population – could not be matched and are currently missing from the new register.
There are also huge numbers to be found in Darlington (8,506, 11 per cent), Middlesbrough (11,026, 11 per cent), Richmondshire (3,996, 11 per cent) and – in particular – Newcastle (36,678, 18 per cent) and York (36,283, 23 per cent).
Areas with a high density of young adults, private renters and students have the most alarming gaps in their new rolls.
Missing voters have already been chased up with letters, asking them to provide additional information – their National Insurance number and date of birth – so they can be registered.
But Labour has warned the change is being rushed, calling for “block registration” of students and people in residential homes, to ensure they stay on lists.
Stephen Twigg, the party’s constitutional affairs spokesman, said:
“There is real concern about a large number of people falling off the register.
Warning 7.5m names were already missing, Mr Twigg added:
“If an unintended consequence of IER is that the situation gets even worse, all of us should be very concerned.”
But David Collingwood, Durham’s electoral services manager, played down talk of problems, saying:
“New enquiry forms for further information will be followed up with personal visits if necessary.
“We are confident this process will see the majority successfully switched to the new system and be eligible to vote.”
Jenny Watson, its chairwoman, added:
“There’s still more work to do. Every electoral registration officer has detailed plans in place to reach those residents they were not able to transfer automatically.”
IER – described as the biggest change to the electoral registration system in almost 100 years – has been deliberately delayed until after next year’s general election.
But Mr Twigg said rolling over existing lists would not capture people who have moved house – or turned 18 – since the last registers were compiled.
Source – Northern Echo, 31 Oct 2014
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