Changes to UK Voter Registration Laws: A Future of USA-esque Disenfranchisement?

By April 22, 2014behavioural economics

There are a lot of similarities between the US and the UK, like an affinity for sports called “football,” is it possible that voter registration will soon become one of them? The new changes to voter registration law in the UK are aimed to prevent election fraud, however the laws have some citizens up in arms. Formerly, the head-of-household could register every eligible voter in their home however with the new laws everyone will have to register individually. Households are sent registration forms in the mail, but the system has transitioned from compulsory to voluntary registration under the new law. Therefore, many fear that those who are disengaged in voting will not choose to register.

In the United States registration has always been the responsibility of the individual. While it’s mandatory to have the option to register when obtaining one’s driver’s license, the individual is otherwise left to their own devices. Policies vary between states, but the overwhelming majority have registration forms that must be obtained online or from a public facility. US voter registration rates lull around 70% compared to over 90% in the UK. When asked about the changes, the Chair of the Electoral Commission, Jenny Russell, stated that “It is logical to suggest that those that do not vote in elections will not see the point of registering to vote and it is possible that the register may therefore go from a 90 per cent completeness that we currently have to a 60-65 per cent.” This indicates a fear that the UK’s voter registration rates will drop significantly, bringing them closer to the discouragingly low rates of the US.

Jenny Russell’s statement also highlights the fact the law will not affect all voters equally. Young, minority, elderly, and poorer voters are those most likely to be affected. These voters tend to move houses more frequently and have less access to resources regarding voting. It is important to point out that these groups are more likely to vote Labour, which could cause political upset in future elections. In the US, activists are already fighting to ensure that everyone has equal access to information about their ability to register. This could be the fate of the UK under the new law, especially if trends to restrict voting continue.

From a personal perspective, we are both students and have seen our fellow classmates in the US choose not to register and vote due to a complex and inconvenient system. This apathy inspired by alterations to registration could be a trend that will carry across the pond. The law has been described as the biggest change to voting since the introduction of universal suffrage. Many revisions have been made to the US registration system over the years resulting in disenfranchisement. Who’s to say that the UK won’t follow suit?

Clara Roberts and James Nugent are both interns at The Campaign Company. If you wish to register to vote, you can do so here – http://www.jointhevote.org/