No registration, no democracy, study warns

Research conducted during the general election has revealed that voter registration poses a larger threat to politics than electoral fraud. The investigation was carried out during the general election in May 2015 by Dr Toby James and Dr Alistair Clark, who both work in University of East Anglia’s School of Politics. Both claim that the main problem at polling stations was not electoral fraud but citizens being refused to vote as they were not on the electoral register, According to their research, more than two-thirds of polling stations turned away a potential voter during the general election.

Possible solutions that they proposed to combat this was to carry out an investigation into election day registration, automatic registration, or allowing citizens to vote at other polling stations. James and Clark have warned that making registration and voting more difficult will create more problems than it actually will solve.

The main problem is not fraud but voter registration. More than two out of three polling stations turned away a potential voter during the general election as they weren’t on the electoral register.

Alternatives on how to improve voter registration have been suggested, such as same-day registration which is currently being trialled in America.

Automatic registration and being able to vote at other polling stations have also been proposed, as they could be measured on a pilot scheme which determines the feasibility before being used across the country.

Dr Alistair Clark states, “While cases do exist, electoral fraud is not as widespread a problem as might be expected. Needless obstacles should not be put in the way of those eligible to vote who wish to do so. This means that new means of voting need to be considered, and these need to be properly resourced by government.”

Introducing new obstacles such as voter ID or a reduction in postal voting could lower voter turnout, especially in local and council elections.

Rather than focusing on making voting more secure (or what some see as difficult), research suggests making vote registration easier and increasing turn out should be more of a priority.

Many people think they are automatically registered to vote upon once they turn 18 years old or because they pay council tax. This is not the case and educating people who want to and are able to vote should be a priority over stopping what little fraudulent activity does take place.

Alternative methods to reduce fraud without decreasing the accessibility of voting include assessing the financial needs of voting services and providing further resources to improve the ability of officials to investigate allegations of fraudulent activity.

Similarly, training and equipping polling station staff to deal with investigating and tackling fraud at the polling station itself are also a “crucial issue” in eliminating this threat to democracy.

If the review is fast-tracked the results may become apparent as soon as December 2015, which could lead to reduced turnout in elections taking place in 2016 as more people are turned away.

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