Voting System Reform Proposed for Queen’s Speech

Proposals are out for new legislation to shore up our creaky, old electoral system. The details are very sketchy, here’s what I can find:

The new law, as reported, doesn’t really offer much the main change is a heavy criminal penalty for postal ballot related fraud and a requirement for more information to be included on registration forms which are still to be per-household.

The Guardian reports that individual voter registrations would cost £23m more (per year, election, they don’t say) which may be why Lord Falconer has dodged individual forms in favour of keeping household registrations. This is despite Northern Ireland using individual registration on the basis that it does cut fraud. Unfortunately individual registration did reduce the total number of voters recorded when introduced in Northern Ireland. In the minds of those politicians who love playing simplistic turnout numbers games, this decline is a bad thing. However the drop in numbers may partially be accounted for by the elimination of fraudulent registrations that cannot be perpetrated with individual registrations. Note that the Electoral Commission also has been in favour of individual registrations.

Money and voter numbers aside, the real issue is when are we ever going to introduce a modern electoral register system. With people being highly mobile these days we are crying out for positive action to arise like a phoenix from the ashes of LASER and CORE, the previous codenames for attempts to launch a fully connection electronic national register. Such a register is key to allowing at least semi-secure multi-channel voting and yet was totally absent from today’s media reports.

Lack of electronic registers aside, criticism from both the Tories and the LibDems has been spot on. The blues argued that this was merely tinkering, it is, there is nothing fundamental being changed. The yellows pointed out that while greater penalties may deter some, with the current system fraud is so hard to detect the penalties are by the by.

The other proposal in the legislation is to prevent political parties being overly involved in the process of registration and collecting ballots. Personally I think there is nothing wrong with parties encouraging people to register but they should go nowhere near ballots before or after completion. It just avoids any opportunities for allegations to be made.

Finally, on the process of how these proposals have been introduced, have I been living under a rock? There has been (as far as I can tell) no consultation at all on these changes. It seems like the legislation is being rushed, without proper discussion. Not again.