Waverley Borough Council Committee System - Committee Document
Meeting of the Executive held on 07/03/2006
Electoral Registration - Proposed Co-ordinated National Register
Waverley Borough Council
EXECUTIVE – 7TH MARCH 2006
ELECTORAL REGISTRATION – PROPOSED CO-ORDINATED NATIONAL REGISTER
[Wards Affected: All]
Summary and purpose:
This report outlines a consultation document from the Government on its proposals for a co-ordinated on-line record of electors (CORE). It sets out the broad outline of a response which officers will send to the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA).
There could be some saving in paper usage connected with the proposals for the co-ordinated record of electors.
Social / community implications:
There could be significant social and community implications arising from people’s fears about misuse of centrally held data about themselves. There could also be some impact on the levels of electoral registration if people were worried about the implications.
One of the Government’s aims is to reduce the possibility of any fraud at elections, and this is intended to increase confidence in the democratic process.
There could be major E-Government implications in that the Government is intending to make data available at a national level to authorised bodies, and also to make it simpler for electors to update their registration details on line. Waverley already offers both telephone and on-line options for electors to confirm that there are no changes to their details.
Resource and legal implications:
There could be some resource implications involved in setting up the system, but the Government will provide funding for the main IT infrastructure. There could also be some worries about use of the data, which could expose the Council to the risk of challenges about data protection.
1. This was launched by the Government in 2004. Its aims were to 1) standardise key elements of the different types of electoral registration software, used by around 400 locally based electoral registration offices in the UK 2) building on standardisation, to establish arrangements to provide access to this data, at a national level, for authorised persons and organisations and 3) individual electors might be able to access, confirm and possibly request changes to their own details on-line.
2. The Government has been working on the project for some time and it has a range of other objectives as follows:-
to help improve the integrity of electoral registers
to give convenient national access to standardised electoral registration data that could continue to be locally collected and maintained
to help support modernisation of the voting process
to increase efficiency of electoral registration
to provide for the preparation of reports centrally, based on the national data set.
3. The Government has consulted the Electoral Commission and has also commissioned consultants, Accenture E-Democracy Services, to conduct a detailed feasibility and option study.
4. The consultants drew on their experience in America in delivering state-level voter registration systems. The consultants drew up six models, ranging from a very locally based system where each electoral registration officer continues to run their own system but submit data to a central point, to a completely centralised system run by Government which would not allow local electoral registration officers to use their own systems locally. There would in effect be one database run from a central location.
5. These models were then assessed against criteria of functionality, acceptability, implementability and risk. The consultants then narrowed it down to two models which are towards the centralising end of the spectrum but not the completely centralised system.
6. Officers have looked at the proposals, which are very detailed in nature and technical but officers feel that they raise a number of points of principle. These are as follows:-
Roles of Electoral Registration Officers
Currently each Council appoints an Electoral Registration Officer who is usually the Returning Officer for all elections. They have some degree of independence and this system is intended to reassure electors that the system is not open to political influence. Any of the options that move towards a high degree of central control might undermine this confidence in the impartiality of the electoral registration and voting process and officers propose supporting the model that retains some independence for electoral registration officers. The quality of the Register might depend more on the central system and this would raise issues of accountability.
Access to the Information
The Government proposes strictly controlled access for some central organisations but has said that there could be uses of CORE for police and security services and the Government also suggests data checking and data swapping for systems such as the Passport Office and the proposed national identity card system might be helpful.
Officers feel that this raises a whole range of data protection and civil liberty issues, which might combine to deter people from registering. Members may be aware that it has already become more difficult to persuade people to register and that Waverley’s previous very high rates of registration, which were in the high 90% have now dropped several percent. Officers are very worried that this could make it even more difficult to persuade people to register.
Risk of Centralised System
As explained above, officers support the option of a system as a hybrid where there is still some control left with local electoral registration officers. However, recent major information technology projects organised at a national Government level such as the Criminal Records Bureau implementation, the Passport Office new computer systems, the NHS records system and others highlight the risks of very large and complex national IT systems. At present, locally run electoral registration systems have a high degree of resilience and have never suffered from any catastrophic failure or delays.
There would also be huge pressures placed on returning officers if they could not rely on electoral registration data being both accurate, up to date and immediately available. The very tight timetables for elections and postal votes could not be supported if the national system was unreliable.
Civil Liberties Worries
There have already been reports in the media about the possible linkage of the CORE Project and the Government’s proposals on identity cards. As explained above, the Government has said that it will put safeguards in place but at the moment most electors see registering to vote as their opportunity to influence a democratic system. If this were tied-in with identity cards, to which some people have objections of principle and which at the last Government announcement was said to be voluntary, this could have a very adverse effect on registration and then consequently on turnout at elections. This would be the opposite effect from that intended by Government.
Again officers are supporting the model which allows Waverley to control its own electoral registration system but to submit data centrally. There could be some quite onerous requirements to report a higher level of detailed data submission than was originally envisaged in this system, which could pose additional workload for the elections and IT teams in Waverley.
Officers have submitted a response, as the closing date for reply to the Department of Constitutional Affairs was 7th March. However, they have said that members may wish to add some general points to the response and if the Executive wishes to do this officers will arrange for this to be sent electronically.
The Executive is recommended
1. to note the broad officer response to the DCA Consultation document; and
2. to strengthen or add any new issues that Executive would wish to raise.
There are no background papers (as defined by Section 100D(5) of the Local Government Act 1972) relating to this report.