UK Politics

Queen's Speech: Biggest change to voter registration

People wishing to vote in UK elections will have to to take individual responsibility for ensuring they are on the electoral register, it was announced in the Queen's Speech.

At present, a 'head of the household' can decide who is registered to vote.

Elections watchdog the Electoral Commission says the plan is the biggest change to registration since all adults were given the right to vote.

But critics warned it had not been thought through and could harm turnout.

The Electoral Registration and Administration Bill will be phased in from 2014 when individual registration becomes compulsory for new voters and anyone voting by proxy or post.

Ministers hope the bill will tackle electoral fraud and make it easier for people to cast their ballot. It will also pave the way for people to sign up to vote online.

'Reduced turnout'

Jon Tonge, professor of politics at Liverpool University described the plans as a "disaster".

"If there's one thing that's guaranteed to reduce voter turnout it's this," he said. "Unless it's backed by draconian penalties it just won't work. There are much easier, more sensible ways to make it easier to vote - registering in schools and universities would have a much bigger impact."

Professor Tonge, who chaired a government study into political engagement among young people, said the government had not thought through the plans.

When the proposals were launched, Labour's Harriet Harman said the government was trying to push students, young people in rented accommodation and those from ethnic minorities off the electoral register.

But the Electoral Commission said they had been pressing for the change since 2003 and were "delighted" the bill had been announced.

Chair Jenny Watson said it would be a "significant change" and must be introduced "in a way that puts the needs of the voters first".

"It will also need careful planning and implementation to ensure it maximises the accuracy and completeness of the electoral registers," she added.

After the next general election, from December 2015, everyone wishing to vote will have to register using the new system, if the changes become law.

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