Today’s Guardian reports that some 800,000 people have dropped off the electoral register since the move to individual voter registration.
Labour isn’t happy about this, and is demanding that the Government do more to prevent people, especially students, from getting de-registered.
The party fears that this could also lead to a reduced electorate in inner cities and university towns, which will reduce the strength of such seats in the upcoming boundary review.
Yet the figures could also suggest that, if anything, the new measures aren’t rigorous enough.
According to John Penrose, the minister responsible, the Electoral Commission believes that up to 1.9 million names on the register may be “ghost entries”, with “scary” implications for electoral fraud.
If the Guardian’s figure for drop outs is accurate, that means that there could be over a million such entries still on the rolls.
If the Government is seriously concerned about fraud, perhaps it ought to consider introducing some sort of ID requirement at voting stations.
Tightening the rules for postal votes, which have shifted from being an aid in cases of necessity to a convenience for the committed, may also help.
As for Labour, they have already alighted on the best remedy for their complaint: a voter registration drive. It could not only reduce the negative consequences of reform the Opposition fear, but could also be good for democracy.
Forcing the parties to go out and persuade potentially low-interest groups that registering to vote is important may help to increase their engagement with the political process.
It’s difficult for politicos to grasp that millions of their fellow citizens don’t care about politics, and view it as a low-stakes contest between rival groups of self-serving personalities.
Yet low turnout has dogged British general elections for decades, as the country has grown more prosperous and the divisions between what the two major parties offer has narrowed.
If parties believe it important that people vote, then it is far better that they should go out and make that case than resort to counter-productive corner-cutting such as lax ballot access requirements or mandatory voting.
And if the sort of people who don’t have the motivation to register – who very likely didn’t vote anyway – aren’t on the roll, the only material difference to British democracy will be higher percentage turnout figures.