Cllr Paul Canal is the Leader of the Conservative Group on Redbridge Council
Electoral register integrity, along with a transparent and robust electoral process, is essential to building trust in a democratic society.
The historical absence of any identity checks on voter registration submissions, which were taken “on trust” came as a shock to many people. Building an electoral database on that basis with no checks and balances played a key role in the Tower Hamlets debacle. There could not be a more thorough indictment of a failed and failing electoral system. London Conservatives believe Tower Hamlets is not an isolated case.
The Electoral Commission had been pushing for reforms for some time and welcomed the announcement by Mark Harper in 2010, when he was the Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform, that Britain would move to Individual Electoral Registration on phased basis.
They have had IER in Northern Ireland since 2002. (Home, perhaps unfairly, of the “vote early, vote often” style of democracy. There is an apocryphal report of one NI polling station closing at lunchtime because everyone had voted, including the deceased!).
The failure to then extend IER from Norther Ireland to mainland Britain was perplexing.
IER does present a different challenge to those undergoing boundary reviews, and to the Local Government Boundary Commission for England and Wales (LGBCE) who adjudge those reviews. IER will be the base used for parliamentary boundaries and voter number projections in the next round of parliamentary boundary reviews.
However, guidance from the LGBCE does not specifically mention IER, though it does say “projections should take account of any change to the number of electors within five years”.
IER is not five years away; it is six weeks away! If that is not a change that should influence a projection, what is?
In Redbridge, where a Local Government Boundary Review is underway, over 25,000 people have been found not eligible to vote under IER. In one ward a staggering 18 per cent of the voters did not qualify.
With the publication of the new electoral register only six weeks away, it would appear axiomatic to use IER voters (ie real voters who qualify to vote) as the baseline from which projections will be made.
Despite strenuous efforts the Redbridge Labour administration has resisted all arguments to even use an up to date register, let alone one that takes account of IER.
Their projections will be based on the Dec 1st 2014 register, which include 25,000 non eligible voters, over 10 per cent of the total. This flies in the face of LGBCE guidance.
The effect of using an incorrect base figure is profound. Reviews are usually triggered by a 10 per cent variation from an average ward size. Labour are proposing a review submission that as a starting point varies by 11 per cent from the figure for the real “IER” electorate. If this was accepted Redbridge would require a ward boundary review on the same day the current review is published. Utterly absurd.
We will be submitting to the LGBCE voter number projections based on their current guidance. It is ultimately for them to decide.
Once we have submitted our figures, we may also award a trophy, in the shape of a salamander, to the architect of Redbridge Labour’s submission.
We would have suggested it as a Booker prize entry, but are just a few days too late.