Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVE ANDERSON

THE right to vote is the bedrock of our parliamentary democracy and one for which people fought hard, as shown in the new film on the Suffragettes, but is under threat. We cannot trust the Conservatives, who are cavalier about ensuring a full franchise that could challenge their interests. When the poll tax was introduced, civil servants told Mrs Thatcher that many people would evade electoral registration in trying to avoid a punitive and unfair tax.

She acknowledged the accidental benefit but failed to act because she realised that the missing millions would not be natural Tory voters.

When Labour returned to power in 1997, it modernised the electoral registration system and agreed to introduce individual registration rather than the head of the household filling in the forms.

The Labour plan was to make the transition with great care and strong safeguards to prevent losing voters from electoral rolls. But the current government has unilaterally accelerated the timetable to switch voters from household to individual registration. The new deadline is this December and the voting register will be used in next year's important elections in local councils, Scotland, Wales and London.

The danger is that very many voters will be excluded in a cynical attempt to rig the system. Private renters, ethnic minority voters, young people and students are most likely not to be transferred over. Nearly two million people could lose the right to vote, in addition to many others who have disappeared in the last two decades.

This threat is so serious that the Electoral Commission, an independent watchdog, has backed plans to block the hasty change in a major vote this week in the Lords, where Labour and opposition peers have a majority. The Commission argues that acting in haste means the Government lacks reliable information on how many redundant entries will be removed at the end of this year and how many eligible electors will need to re-register before May 2016.

The Commission, which has no axe to grind, makes it crystal clear that the advanced timetable puts the onus on voters to get themselves on the register to vote in May while the slower move to individual registration gives greater responsibilities to professional and dedicated electoral registration officers to make sure the register is accurate. …

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