Report calls for upgrade in voter registration IT

Commonwealth Parliamentary Association says there is a need for stronger safeguards against people voting in more than one constituency

International election observers have joined calls for better technology to tackle the ease with which people can register to vote twice in Britain.

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, which sent 32 observers to last month’s election, has published a report on last month’s general election that calls for a centralised electoral database to ensure votes cannot be cast in more than one constituency.

Polling station sign“There is no single central register of voters in the United Kingdom. Voters are registered at a local level and managed by local authorities,” the report says.

It adds: “Serious consideration should be given to curbing the potential, or increasing the safeguards, against double registration throughout the UK, including possibly through a centralised register, to guarantee the right to equal suffrage.”

The association notes that “no data is available on the number of persons who registered twice” – but said the ease with which it could be done raised concerns about “equality of the vote”.

It sent teams to observe the election in the constituencies of Birmingham Ladywood, Darlington, East Devon, Edinburgh West, Gower, Hendon, Manchester Central and North Norfolk.

Student issue

The warning echoes last week’s report by the Electoral Commission, which pointed to “troubling” reports of double voting, allegedly by students.

Earlier this year, the watchdog called for an upgrade to allow the hundreds of different voting rolls held by each local authority in the country to “speak to each other”. The development would allow people to find out easily whether they are registered to vote, as well as enabling checks to ensure someone is not on more than one voting roll, it said.

If that was technically possible, the commission argued, people uncertain if they already registered would be less likely to make last gasp attempts to do so and risk overloading the system.

It was precisely such a surge in demand that crashed the online registration system before last year’s EU referendum, forcing ministers to – controversially – extend the deadline by 48 hours.

The commission has also argued for voters to be given passwords to email information about themselves and receive a confirmation in return.

Voting registers are currently held across no fewer than five different IT systems and they are not joined up.

Overseas precautions

Other countries, including Australia, New Zealand and the Republic of Ireland, have systems that allow checks before an application to vote is submitted to prevent multiple registrations.

Voter registrations surged before the 8 June election, with 500,000 more people registered than for the 2015 general election. The largest increase was among young people.

Students are allowed to register twice, both in their home constituency and where they are studying, provided they vote only once.

Two Conservative backbenchers, Christopher Chope and Peter Bone, have vowed to introduce a private member's bill to ban voters from registering in two constituencies.

Image from iStock, Tyla Arabas