Thursday 11 March 2010

Off the register

The news in the Herald and on Tom Harris' blog that more than 100,000 people in Glasgow aren't registered to vote didn't come as a great surprise to me. I know from canvassing various areas of Glasgow that you can go past as many doors as you knock on, as so many people are not on the electoral register. When you knock on the doors, you often find that the name you have on the canvass sheet doesn't match the person living there - sometimes the previous tenant has moved away some years ago.

We get regular reports at the Finance and Audit Scrutiny Committee on voter registration, and the details make glum reading. Despite all households being issued with a voter registration enquiry form, and being able to register by phone or online, many still choose not to do bother.

According to their records, the Council got the following returns:

300,002 Enquiry Forms issued on 1 August 2009
130,309 forms returned 43% return

169,693 First Reminders issued on 7 September 2009
46,152 forms returned 59% return

130,633 Second Reminders issued on 5 October 2009
42,540 returned 73% return

After the last tranche, the Council tries to visit or phone as many of the remaining people as possible. They run matches against asylum seekers, school pupils, death certificates, students, properties due for demolition, Housing Benefit Claimants, Council Tax, Registers of Scotland and seek help from the Glasgow City Council Black & Minority Ethnic Groups Directory. They've done roadshows and visited various groups. Evidently, it's still not enough.

There are many reasons why people don't register - lack of knowledge, lack of interest, or even deliberate disengagement. There are historical reasons - people who fear unpaid Poll Tax catching up on them - and factors like students only registering at home when they are also eligible to register in their place of residence. It's pretty staggering that this amounts to 100,000 people taking no part in the democracy that governs them or even voting for the Council who provides them with a service.

I suppose political parties are equally culpable for lack of people on the register. It's a apathetic circle: if people aren't on the register, we tend not to visit them. They then think politicians aren't interested in them, and continue to disengage.

If we find people by chance, and they're interested in registering, a form will be sent to them. Some people have genuinely overlooked registering despite the notifications, and appreciate it being drawn to their attention; I get the impression that they are a minority.

There's a lot of talk about people actively deciding not to vote - but active abstention still allows a minority of people to elect representatives. Some politicians would only care that they got elected, never mind the mandate, so active abstention will make no impact on them whatsoever.

Low turnouts merely cause people to wring their hands and say something must be done. They'll talk for a while about reform and debate the merits of compulsory voting. Then things will continue as usual.

Far better, in my view, to look at the candidates, track them down, speak to them, and find out which of them is a decent human being and would represent your views. Speak to your neighbours, family, friends at the pub about it. Staying at home and not voting changes absolutely nothing. Mass participation has the power to effect change.

If you're in Glasgow, and want to register, the forms are available online here: please do your bit, democracy needs you!


Not the Messiah said...

Do you have access to the breakdown in votes from postal voting at the two recent Glasgow By-Elections?

BellgroveBelle said...

Some of that that should be in the Electoral Commission report for Glasgow North East. There doesn't seem to be a report for Glasgow East, but there is one for Glenrothes.

In Glasgow North East
- A total of 4,085 postal ballot packs, 67.4% of those issued, were
completed and returned to the RO prior to the close of poll. Postal votes accounted for 19.8% of all votes cast in the by-election.
- 217 postal votes were rejected by the RO, representing 5.3% of those returned by the close of poll.

In Glenrothes:
- At the 2008 Glenrothes UK Parliamentary by-election, 10% of electors (a total of 6,925 people) were registered to vote by post.

Not the Messiah said...

Great stuff, ta.

Not the Messiah said...

Glasgow East one is in with Crewe, worth a comparison, that Glasgow North East figures look high on all counts.

Not the Messiah said...

"The ERO identified that, of almost 1,800 postal vote applications he
received in the three days before the deadline, 47% were forms produced by one of the main political parties. When the Commission reported the concerns
that the party had unduly delayed the return of applications for postal votes to the ERO, his staff undertook a spot-check of those applications and discovered that more than 100 forms had been signed and dated by the elector more than a week earlier, and in some cases, more than one month earlier. "

BellgroveBelle said...

Ah, great, thanks!

I've asked if we can discuss the GNE report in committee in the Council.

Richard T said...

Low registration will allow a Tory government to cut the number of seats. That in itself should be enough for the parties to get off their arses and get folk on the register.

BellgroveBelle said...

Very good point Richard; it affects Scottish Parliament and Council constituencies also.

Activate tells me I currently have 15331 electors in my ward. If I go by the Council report and assume 18% of people in my ward are not registered, that's an additional 2760 people. I represent them regardless of whether they're on the register or not, but the figures are important.

I would imagine the ward boundries would come to be reviewed in time, and this could impact upon their designation as three or four member wards.

The GRO have figures for each of the wards in Scotland here: