Thousands of Southwark residents face losing their vote next year after government changes to the electoral registration process were agreed in Parliament this week.
All household members must now register to vote themselves under the new Individual Electoral Registration system. Anyone currently on the existing voting list who does not register will be removed. Previously, any member of the household could sign up all residents in the home. Anyone who has not registered individually by 1 December this year will be removed though.
The new voter registration system was originally due to take effect from December 2016 but the Conservative government has moved this date forward by a year. Both Liberal Democrats and Labour politicians have complained that the change could mean up to two million people lose their vote nationally in next May's elections, including for the new London mayor and assembly.
The move is expected to hit inner city areas like Southwark particularly hard. Residents move more often or work later and are therefore harder for the Council to contact and encourage them to register. The higher number of residents with English as a second language and large numbers of younger residents and students are also big challenges for local authority voter registration teams.
This week Liberal Democrat peers in the House of Lords tried to overturn the Government’s new implementation date in order to allow councils more time to ensure everyone one who is entitled to vote registers. The move was lost by just 11 votes though and 20 Labour peers failed to vote.
The independent Electoral Commission watchdog had also called for the Government plan to be blocked by Parliament while work continues on the latest annual canvass of households to establish an accurate picture of current registered voters. It stated that the risk of disenfranchising large numbers of voters outweighs the chances of a smaller number remaining on the register who should not be.
Southwark Liberal Democrat Communities and Citizenship Spokesperson, Councillor Eliza Mann, said:
“Individual voter registration is right in principle but its full operation should not be rushed. It is vital that the electoral register is as accurate as it can be for next year’s elections for the London Mayor and London Assembly.
“Residents in inner city boroughs like Southwark are much more likely to lose their vote now because of this move by the Tories. There is no good reason for rushing. All the Tories are doing is raising suspicions that they want to reduce the number of voters and constituencies in areas where their support is lower. The official estimate is that nearly two million people who are currently on the register and were on it at the May general election will drop off. That’s completely undemocratic if people are eligible.
“Labour politicians should be ashamed of how they have let the Government off the hook though. Despite making lots of noise about the issue over the past few months, when they had the chance to overturn the Tory plans their peers failed to even vote. The Government could have been defeated but now thousands of people in Southwark, particularly young and black and minority ethnic residents, will lose their vote in December.
“Liberal Democrats are fighting residents’ corner to ensure that all those who are entitled to vote in Southwark should be allowed to. It’s not just about voting though. Being on the electoral register is vital for credit ratings, mortgage and other official applications and getting a mobile phone. Removing people from the register will deny Southwark residents access to these services too.”