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The Conservatives have been criticised for a change in voting law that could see hundreds of thousands of people drop off the electoral roll.
In an unusual move this afternoon the Electoral Commission censured the government over a move announced today, which is likely boost Tory chances of retaining power in 2020.
Until now the head of the household was responsible for registering all the voters who lived at that address, but in future each individual will be responsible for their own voter registration.
The commission expressed its disappointment that the transitional period for people to individually register themselves has been curtailed. Against the commission’s advice, the time voters have to personally re-register has now been cut by 12 months.
An Electoral Commission report recently found that there are 1.9 million voters still on electoral rolls who are there because of the old household system of registration.
Many of those yet to register as individual voters are believed to be in predominantly Labour areas. As the new boundaries will be based on electoral registers without these voters, the Conservatives are likely to benefit.
The plan was that these names would remain registered until the end of the transition period on 1 December 2016.
Local registration officers would start this summer trying to get many, or most, of these people registered individually by the end of December 2016.
And although it is understood many of the names should not be on the list at all, the deadline for the time-consuming process has been brought forward by a year.
This gives registration officers barely four months to get these voters registered as individuals. Otherwise their names automatically fall off the register on 1 December.
Although the government is allocating more money for registration officers to carry out their work, the Electoral Commission fears hundreds of thousands of people who should be entitled to vote will not now be registered to vote in next May’s elections.
These include votes for the Scottish and Welsh assemblies; mayors in London and other cities; police commissioners in England and Wales; and elections to many local councils.
Ministers justify today’s announcement on the grounds that it will mean the new registration system is fully in place before the new review of constituency boundaries, which is due to start in December. This review is also expected to reduce the number of Westminster seats from 650 to 600. Labour says that the decision amounts to the Conservatives rigging that review.
It is the latest of a string of measures which look set to make it even harder for Labour to win power again.
These included the announcement yesterday that the law would be changed to ensure that in future trades union members will have to give positive consent before paying a political levy to the Labour party.
The chair of the Electoral Commission, Jenny Watson, said today: “The implementation of the new registration system has gone well so far. But taking into account the data and evidence which is available to us at this point, and the scale and importance of the polls scheduled for next May, we still recommend that the end of transition should take place in December 2016 as set out in law”
Labour shadow justice secretary Lord Falconer said this afternoon: “This is yet another example of how David Cameron’s government is intent on rigging the game in its favour.”
“The Tories are ignoring the Electoral Commission’s recommendation not to proceed in December 2015 — a decision which risks depriving millions of people of a vote as they fall off the electoral register. This looks like a partisan decision intended to help the Tories’ push through a boundary review rigged in their favour.”
Today’s measure is subject to a vote in parliament.
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