Nearly 2 million people to have vote removed before EU referendum

Government plans to remove 1.9m people from the electoral register this year could cause a ‘drastic distortion’ in the outcome of the EU referendum, according to Lib Dem Peers.

Under the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013, people who are only on the electoral register as a result of the old household registration system will remain on the list of voters during a period of transition to individual registration, until December 2016.

Ministers have the power to bring the transition end-date forward, but the independent Electoral Commission has given clear advice that doing so would be wrong.  The change would deprive up to 1.9m people of their vote in the EU referendum if it is held next year, as well as distorting results in the 2016 elections to the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the London Mayoralty and Assembly and to local authorities.

Young people, ethnic minorities, private sector tenants, and those from more socially deprived communities are the most likely groups to be removed from the register.

The Ministerial order giving effect to these changes comes into force on August 6th, but can be rejected by either House of Parliament at any time before November 2nd.   Lib Dem MP Tom Brake has tabled a rejection motion in the House of Commons, and Lib Dem Constitutional Affairs Spokesperson Lord Tyler has tabled a motion in the Lords, where the government is likely to be defeated.

Commenting, Liberal Democrat Constitutional Affairs Spokesperson Lord Tyler said:

“The EU referendum will be the most important democratic decision UK citizens will take for a generation, yet the government seems hellbent on a drastic distortion – removing millions of our fellow citizens from the process before the campaigns have even begun.

“Whatever the outcome of the referendum, it must be decisive and fair.  Taking scores of young people and ethnic minorities out of the decision will bring the whole credibility of the result into question.

“Just as campaigners are winning the argument to add 16 and 17 year olds to the franchise, Ministers cannot tack in the other direction, by making the electoral register smaller.”

The Government’s plan will also affect the 2016 boundary review.  Conservatives are keen to remove ‘carryover’ electors from the register early, because doing so will disproportionately reduce the number of voters registered in urban constituencies.  In turn, the review due to commence in 2016 will produce fewer urban constituencies, providing an advantage for the Conservative Party, which usually fares better outside big conurbations. 

Lib Dem peer Lord Rennard, who led a successful cross-party group of Peers in blocking a skewed boundary review in the last Parliament, said:

“The Government is ignoring the independent Electoral Commission in pursuit of its own narrow party advantage.  Removing nearly two million voters from the register in this way will not only skew the outcome of the EU referendum, it will also ensure that there are fewer non-Conservative constituencies in future.  By removing many of those voters who usually support other parties from the electoral roll, the Conservatives are engaged in a shameful abuse of power which must be opposed.” 

ENDS

 

Notes to Editors:

  • The Electoral Commission statement opposing the Government plan to remove 1.9m voters from the electoral roll is here
  • The Government’s statement is here
  • The legislative order which will remove 1.9m voters from the register is here
  • Tom Brake’s motion in the House of Commons is here
  • Lord Tyler’s motion in the House of Lords can be found here

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