New registration rules spark voter loss fears for 2016 election

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by a Newsnet.scot Reporter

The Electoral Commission in Scotland is being urged to investigate claims that hundreds of thousands of Scots face being excluded from voting, despite turning out for the independence referendum last September.
Rumours have been circulating concerning voter registration, after the issuing of allegedly confusing letters from regional electoral offices across the country.

Gibson: raised concerns with Electoral Commission
Gibson: raised concerns with Electoral Commission

Now SNP MSP Rob Gibson has raised the concerns directly with the  Electoral Commission, following a Herald newspaper report which alleges that the new rules – which make each voter responsible for his or her registration rather than the “head of household – are causing widespread confusion.

It is believe that as many as 800,000 people who signed up to vote in last year’s referendum may not be eligible for the Scottish Parliamentary elections in 2016.

Gibson described the participation level for the referendum as one of the great successes of the campaign.
“Never before have so many people signed up to have their say in the democratic process in Scotland – it is vitally important that we aim to retain this level of voter participation,” added Gibson.

“The Electoral Commission’s transition from a household canvass of voters to individual registration in Glasgow alone has seen 100,000 fewer voters registered so far – and this could mount to 800,000 across Scotland if means are not found to encourage voter registration in good time for 2016.”

The MSP revealed that he had found his own letter received from his local Electoral Registration Office did not make clear what elections this reregistration would impact on.

“It only informed me that I could not be re-registered because my date of birth and National Insurance Number were not sufficient identifiers. This letter was worded in an unnecessarily unhelpful way – I would urge a more open and engaging approach.”

Glasgow: 100,000 missing voters
Glasgow: 100,000 missing voters

A voter registration drive in some areas of Scotland, and particularly Glasgow, resulted in a massive growth in the number of eligible voters and contributed to the record turnout last September 18.

There was controversy when some local authorities opted to use the new voter records to chase up poll tax debts, and the threat was averted only when the Scottish Government intervened. There was concern then that such a move would deter people from voting.

The number of people who have responded to the change since its launch four months ago is significantly lower in various local authority area, with the biggest concern in Glasgow, where 100,000 people have not yet signed up to the system. That represents a 22 per cent drop.

Labour has raised similar concerns about parallel changes to the system in England. The changes are intended to reduce the possibility of electoral fraud. However, the re-registration is particularly low in population centres with a high rate of transient people and students.