Five voter registration battlegrounds

Five voter registration battlegrounds
Five voter registration battlegrounds

It may have been somewhat overshadowed by the Liam Fox affair, but the coalition's latest round of constitutional tinkering, changing the way people register to vote, is being debated in the Commons today. Here's a quick overview of the key battlegrounds being fought over as the government prepares its final legislation for parliament.

1 - The tick-box opt-out

This was supposed to be the one area where ministers had actually made a climbdown. Deputy PM Nick Clegg signalled that the proposed option for voters to say 'no thanks to democracy' would be rethought last week, after organisations suggested this made it too easy to wriggle out of voting. But Labour still aren't happy. Their frontbenchers think voting is a civic duty, and are still worried that the bill could undermine the importance of democracy as something more than a moral obligation.

2 - Funding for electoral registration officers


The biggest practical concern of those tasked with actually running the register is hard cash. At present ministers aren't quite prepared to ringfence the money needed for the transition from a household canvas to individual voter registration. Any arguments that the money is desperately needed are going to have to be balanced out by the coalition's broader commitment towards letting councils make these calls. Despite that, there's a chance they might be persuaded to protect the funding - using the fact this is a one-off transition as a convenient excuse.

3 - The 2014 canvas

This is another issue where we might see movement. Under present plans, the coalition won't bother with the household-by-household canvas in 2014. Yes, those who are on the register in this way will still be able to vote in the 2015 general election, but in the period running up to polling day they'll only be able to register individually, using the new system. It's this which is causing the predictions that the percentage of those eligible to vote actually on the register could fall to as low as 60%.

Constitutional reform minister Mark Harper says there will be a household canvas in 2014, but only for those properties where there isn't anyone registered at the moment. It's possible that pressure from the political and constitutional reform committee might win him over, but this would be a big battle won for MPs if they succeeded. Right now, it looks very unlikely.

4 - Poorer will suffer more

Labour's big concern is that their voters will be the ones who suffer more from this process. The fear is that those living in urban areas, who move around lots - including black and ethnic minorities, as well as young people - will be hit hardest. Everyone is saying this is the case, except the government. It says there's no evidence that the poorer will be less motivated to get registered. Given the partisan overtones to this debate, there's not a chance of movement here.

5 - Students and the dual registration headache

If there's no sign of budging on an issue that divides Labour and the Conservatives, you might think there would be better prospects in a Conservative-Liberal Democrat spat. The coalition's junior party would very much appreciate it if something was done to address the problem of dual registration, where voters are registered in more than one place. This is allowed at the moment, but it's led to a lot of confusion: often students will be registered in one part of their university town, living in another and try to vote at home. The Lib Dems, who rely on student homes, would much prefer a change in the rules. But Harper has dismissed any kind of "dramatic change" on this issue. This apparent aversion to sudden upheaval might come as a surprise to those struggling with the enormous implications of the boundary changes, Lords reform, party funding, and, of course, voter registration...

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