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  • Writer's pictureHersh Thaker

Give Optimism a Chance: Individual Electoral Registration.

The introduction of Individual Electoral Registration (IER) is the biggest change to the way we do elections since the Universal Franchise.  Done right, it will get more of us engaged – a massive challenge in an era of deep disillusionment with politics and politicians. Done wrong, it will cause a collapse in participation and wreak havoc with the government’s claims to restore ‘power to the people’.

I acknowledge the anxiety towards IER, particularly because of its potential to disenfranchise voters. However these arguments are based on certain proposals from the current White Paper. Since then; The Electoral Commission, The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, backbench MP’s & Peers, countless civil society organisations, local councils and NGO’s have raised their concerns around the opt-out, 2014 Household Canvass and it’s affect on the Boundary Review. The likelihood is that the coalition will struggle to ignore the consensual recommendations put forward to ensure that the register is both complete and accurate.

So on the basis that the opt–out clause is dropped and a full household canvass is maintained in 2014, surely the implementation of IER is no longer a contentious issue.  Beyond the technical jargon that comes with constitutional reform, it essentially comes down to knowing that my dad used to register me, but now I have to do it. After all, it’s me who’s voting, whose names is on the register, whose credit ratings will be helped and who will get called up to jury duty, not my dad. It puts the responsibility of my civic duty directly into my hands. That’s not so bad is it?

Apart from attacking the claim that IER will make the register more complete, critics have pointed out that it doesn’t actually tackle the issue of electoral fraud. Sure - it’s not full proof on security, however the requirement of having to now provide identification does make it more secure than the status quo. IER is also a progressive measure. The desire to modernise and ‘move with the times’ is popular with us progressives so, again providing it’s done correctly, individual registration caters for our ever increasing mobile and individualistic society. Not only this but there is a greater number of people living in bedsits and shared accommodation on top of student accommodations, all for which traditional registration methods just do not work. It is only sensible that our democracy evolves with our society.

The changes will also bring new opportunities to rejuvenate young people’s interest in politics and go some way in giving them a sense of responsibility towards society. The simple process of filling in your own registration form can create an awareness of the civic duty that it brings. Yes, again critics have been skeptical of this argument and will note that they would rather have the more reliable parents ensure their kids register, but that is in no sense a progressive attitude and besides, if it’s to be compulsory anyway why not let young people take ownership? This also adds purpose to, frankly lackluster, citizenship education in schools. Registering, voting and other social obligations are no longer airy topics that students cannot relate to in their classrooms. It becomes a real duty that only they will be held responsible for.

I accept there the tone of optimism in my argument, which is based on the (calculated) assumption that certain recommendations will be passed. For now however, we must wait for the bill to come before parliament and revisit the arguments then.


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