Electoral registration in the United Kingdom

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Electors must be on the electoral register in order to vote in elections and referendums in the UK. Electoral registration officers within local authorities have a duty to compile and maintain accurate electoral registers.

In the United Kingdom, an electoral registration officer (ERO) is a person who has the statutory duty to compile and maintain the electoral roll. Any expenses incurred by an electoral registration officer in the performance of his/her functions are paid by the local authority which made the appointment, except in Northern Ireland, where the Chief Electoral Officer's expenses are covered by the Northern Ireland Office.


Registration was introduced for all constituencies as a result of the Reform Act 1832, which took effect for the election of the same year. Since 1832, only those registered to vote can do so, and the government invariably runs nonpartisan get out the vote campaigns for each election to expand the franchise as much as possible.

Reform Act 1832 United Kingdom legislation

The Representation of the People Act 1832 was an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom that introduced wide-ranging changes to the electoral system of England and Wales. According to its preamble, the Act was designed to "take effectual Measures for correcting divers Abuses that have long prevailed in the Choice of Members to serve in the Commons House of Parliament". Before the reform, most members nominally represented boroughs. The number of electors in a borough varied widely, from a dozen or so up to 12,000. Frequently the selection of MPs was effectively controlled by one powerful patron: for example Charles Howard, 11th Duke of Norfolk, controlled eleven boroughs. Criteria for qualification for the franchise varied greatly among boroughs, from the requirement to own land, to merely living in a house with a hearth sufficient to boil a pot.

1832 United Kingdom general election

The 1832 United Kingdom general election, the first after the Reform Act, saw the Whigs win a large majority, with the Tories winning less than 30% of the vote.

Get out the vote efforts aimed at increasing the voter turnout in elections

"Get out the vote" describes efforts aimed at increasing the voter turnout in elections. In countries that do not have or enforce compulsory voting, voter turnout can be low, sometimes even below a third of the eligible voter pool. GOTV is generally not required for elections when there are effective compulsory voting systems in place, other than perhaps to register first time voters.

Current procedure

To register to vote a person must be 16 years old or over (but they cannot vote in some elections until they are 18) and resident (usually live) in the UK. In addition, a person must be a British, Irish or European Union citizen, or a Commonwealth citizen who has leave to remain in the UK or who does not require such leave.

European Union Economic and political union of European states

The European Union (EU) is a political and economic union of 28 member states that are located primarily in Europe. Its members have a combined area of 4,475,757 km2 (1,728,099 sq mi) and an estimated total population of about 513 million. The EU has developed an internal single market through a standardised system of laws that apply in all member states in those matters, and only those matters, where members have agreed to act as one. EU policies aim to ensure the free movement of people, goods, services and capital within the internal market, enact legislation in justice and home affairs and maintain common policies on trade, agriculture, fisheries and regional development. For travel within the Schengen Area, passport controls have been abolished. A monetary union was established in 1999 and came into full force in 2002 and is composed of 19 EU member states which use the euro currency.

Commonwealth of Nations Intergovernmental organisation

The Commonwealth of Nations, generally known simply as the Commonwealth, is a political association of 53 member states, nearly all of them former territories of the British Empire. The chief institutions of the organisation are the Commonwealth Secretariat, which focuses on intergovernmental aspects, and the Commonwealth Foundation, which focuses on non-governmental relations between member states.

A person can register at any time of the year. To register, electors should have a fixed address. If an elector wishes to register to vote, but has no fixed address, they may be able to register to vote by completing a declaration of local connection form. This would allow them to register at a place where they are likely to spend a substantial amount of their time.

Regulation 23 of the Representation of the People Regulations 2001 states that the electoral registration officer has the power to require information needed for the purpose of maintaining the electoral register. Any person who fails to give information is liable on summary conviction to a fine.

A person can register anonymously if their safety (or the safety of someone in their household) would be at risk if their name and address appeared on the electoral register. Documentary evidence of a court order or an attestation from an authorised person is required. [1]

An anonymous elector is generally a registered voter whose safety would be at risk if their details were available on a public electoral register.

Individual Electoral Registration

‘Individual Electoral Registration’ (IER) was introduced by the UK government through the Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 with the first IER applications being made in England and Wales from 10 June 2014 and in Scotland from 19 September 2014 (the delay in Scotland was due to the Scottish Independence Referendum). [2]

Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 United Kingdom legislation

The Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom which amended electoral law in the United Kingdom. It introduced Individual Electoral Registration (IER).

Previously, the ‘head of household’ was responsible for registering everyone who lived at the address, but now every individual is responsible for their own voter registration. The new system also means that people are now able to register online. Anyone newly registering under the new system will need to register themselves individually by filling out a paper or online form. [1]

In order to register under IER electors are required to provide their date of birth and evidence of their identity, most often a national insurance number. [3]


Before 1832

Before 1832, the only form of voter registration in the United Kingdom was in the Scottish counties. This consisted of a meeting of potential electors called to determine who was eligible to vote. As the electorate for these seats was extremely small—in 1788, it ranged between 16 electors for Clackmannanshire and 187 for Fife—meetings were an important part of the political process; often, elections were determined by registering or disqualifying electors. In the rest of Britain and Ireland, people who claimed to be qualified voters simply presented themselves at the hustings to vote. If a candidate who lost thought his defeat was due to ineligible voters, he could ask for a scrutiny, which would turn out to be an expensive and lengthy process in large constituencies.

In England land tax lists were sometimes used as substitutes for a register. However, not all qualified voters paid land tax, and eligibility was at the discretion of the returning officer as to who was permitted to vote. The high sheriff of the county, or the mayor of a borough, would often abuse their authority as ex officio returning officers for partisan purposes. A losing candidate could petition the House of Commons if he suspected that the returning officer had abused their power.

In 1788, Parliament attempted to introduce voter registration. The scheme failed—registering only one hundred voters in Lancashire—and was abandoned after a year. Parliament attempted again in 1832, when Sir James Graham introduced legislation that would shift the focus of eligibility to the registration process.

Registration process from 1832

In 1832 the overseers of the poor in each parish, who at that time compiled information relevant to electoral qualifications in order to collect local taxes, were given the additional task of compiling the electoral register. The new Act of Parliament required that on 20 June in each year in the counties, the overseers publish a notice calling on prospective voters to make a claim and prove their eligibility to vote. Once an elector had done so, he would be re-listed every time unless his circumstances or eligibility changed. In July, the overseers in the counties would compile a draft register for elections to be held in the coming year. If any elector's eligibility was challenged, the objection was recorded and the elector was given notice to appeal. The list of objections was published during the first two weeks of September.

In the boroughs, the rate-book—which the overseers already compiled—provided a natural basis for the electoral register. An elector who had paid his rates up to the start of the registration period did not need to make a claim, unless there had been a change of address or qualification. By 20 July the assessors and collectors of taxes had to report to the overseers the names of those who were in arrears with payment of their rates. The overseers then compiled a draft electoral register of all those they considered as being qualified to vote. Separate lists of people qualified to vote by virtue of their status as freemen of the borough were prepared by the Town Clerk. The combined lists of all prospective voters were published by the last day of July. Anyone else who claimed to be qualified to vote or who objected was required to give notice to the overseers.

From this point onwards the process for finalising the electoral register was the same for all areas. Barristers (who became known, collectively, as revising barristers) were appointed by senior judges to hold courts which sat from mid-September to the end of October, to revise the lists of voters. [4] These barristers reviewed statements from the officials who had drawn up the lists, from claimants, and from objectors in order to produce the final list of qualified electors. The procedure involved strict compliance with the law and even minor clerical errors could invalidate a claim. A well-qualified person could be put to the time and trouble of defending his vote, even against a worthless objection, because if he did not appear his claim was automatically rejected. This system was difficult and expensive to operate. It encouraged the development of party organisation, as legally qualified agents were needed to defend the claims of party supporters and challenge the eligibility of those supporting opponents. The office of revising barrister was abolished in 1918 [5] when the duties were entrusted to the electoral registration officer.

The dates on which electoral registers came into force were changed from time to time and sometimes varied across different parts of the country: in England and Wales, registers came into force on 1 November between 1832 and 1842, and 1 January between 1844 and 1915. The 1832 system broke down during the First World War: registers were not revised after 1915, and with many voters serving in the armed forces or relocating in order to take up war work, the registers became very outdated.

The passage of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which introduced suffrage for men aged 21 and enfranchised some women from the age of 30, gave the opportunity for revising the process of electoral registration. Responsibility for preparing electoral registers was taken away from the overseers of the poor and given to local authorities. Suffrage was also expanded—or restricted—by following Representation Acts:

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Suffrage right to vote

Suffrage, political franchise, or simply franchise is the right to vote in public, political elections. In some languages, and occasionally in English, the right to vote is called active suffrage, as distinct from passive suffrage, which is the right to stand for election. The combination of active and passive suffrage is sometimes called full suffrage.

Disfranchisement is the revocation of suffrage of a person or group of people, or through practices, prevention of a person exercising the right to vote. Disfranchisement is also termed to the revocation of power or control of a particular individual, community or being to the natural amenity they are abound in; that is to deprive of a franchise, of a legal right, of some privilege or inherent immunity. Disfranchisement may be accomplished explicitly by law or implicitly through requirements applied in a discriminatory fashion, intimidation, or by placing unreasonable requirements on voters for registration or voting.

Voter registration is the requirement that a person otherwise eligible to vote register on an electoral roll before they will be entitled or permitted to vote. Such enrollment may be automatic or may require application being made by the eligible voter. The rules governing registration vary between jurisdictions. Some jurisdictions have "election day registration" and others do not require registration, or may require production of evidence of entitlement to vote at time of voting. In some jurisdictions registration by those of voting age is compulsory, while in most it is optional. In jurisdictions where registration is voluntary, an effort may be made to encourage persons otherwise eligible to vote to register, in what is called as a voter registration drive.

"General Electors" is the term formerly used in Fiji to identify citizens of voting age who belonged, in most cases, to ethnic minorities. The 1997 Constitution defined General Electors as all Fiji citizens who were not registered as being of Fijian, Indian, or Rotuman descent. Also included were citizens who did qualify to be registered in the above categories, but who chose not to be. Persons of biracial or multiracial ancestry could opt to enroll either as General Electors, or as descendants of any of the other three groups to which they had an ancestral claim. General Electors were thus a diverse electorate, whose members included Europeans, Chinese, Banaban Islanders, and many smaller groups. They were allocated 3 seats in the House of Representatives, the lower and more influential house of the Fijian Parliament.

Postal voting voting, election, ballot papers, distributed to electors or returned by post, mail

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Elections in Barbados

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The electoral roll is a list of persons who are eligible to vote in a particular electoral district and who are registered to vote, if required in a particular jurisdiction. An electoral roll has a number of functions, especially to streamline voting on election day. Voter registration is also used to combat electoral fraud by enabling authorities to verify an applicant's identity and entitlement to a vote, and to ensure a person doesn't vote multiple times. In jurisdictions where voting is compulsory, the electoral roll is used to indicate who has failed to vote. Most jurisdictions maintain permanent electoral rolls while some jurisdictions compile new electoral rolls before each election. In some jurisdictions, people to be selected for jury or other civil duties are chosen from an electoral roll.

Representation of the People Act 1948 United Kingdom legislation

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Communal constituencies type of constituency in the Fijian electoral system

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Forty-shilling freeholders were a group of people who had the parliamentary franchise to vote by possessing freehold property, or lands held directly of the king, of an annual rent of at least forty shillings, clear of all charges.

The total registered electorate in the United Kingdom grew from 5.7 million in 1885 to over 21 million in 1918. Much of the growth was result of the Reform Act 1918, which expanded franchise by abolishing property qualifications for men and introduced female suffrage for some women over the age of 30.

Birmingham was a parliamentary constituency of the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom for the city of Birmingham, in what is now the West Midlands Metropolitan County, but at the time was Warwickshire.

A faggot voter or faggot was a person who qualified to vote in an election with a restricted suffrage only by the exploitation of loopholes in the regulations. Typically, faggot voters satisfied a property qualification by holding the title to a subdivision of a large property with a single beneficial owner. Faggot voting was a common electoral abuse in the United Kingdom until the electoral reforms of the late 19th century. Faggot voting was abolished by the Representation of the People Act 1884.

Elections in the United Kingdom types of elections in the United Kingdom

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Electoral Registration (Northern Ireland) Act 2005 United Kingdom legislation

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Electoral Fraud (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 United Kingdom legislation

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  1. 1 2 "Guidance for Electoral Registration Officers : Part 2 – The registration framework" (PDF). Electoralcommission.org.uk. Retrieved 2017-04-26.
  2. "Guidance for Electoral Registration Officers : Part 3 - 2016 canvass" (PDF). Electoralcommission.org.uk. Retrieved 2017-04-26.
  3. "Register to vote". GOV.UK. Retrieved 21 April 2017.
  4. 2 & 3 Will. IV, c. 45: An Act to amend the Representation of the People in England and Wales (7 June 1832), s. 49 et seq. In: The Statutes of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland ..., vol 72, p 154. books.google.co.uk. His Majesty's Statute and Law Printers, 1832. Retrieved 30 March 2015.
  5. Fraser, Sir Hugh. "The Representation of the People Act, 1918 with explanatory notes". Internet Archive. Retrieved April 1, 2015.

Further reading