Claire Bassett, Chief Executive of the Electoral Commission
A change to the law making anonymous registration easier will mean vulnerable people are able to register to vote without compromising their safety, ending a situation which has seen too many people disenfranchised in the past. This new legislation, will help hundreds of people, not least those at risk of domestic violence register to vote anonymously more easily. Being a survivor of abuse should never deprive a person of the right to have their say at elections.
This change to the law also helps others whose personal safety could be compromised by having their personal details on a publicly available electoral register. Victims of harassment and stalking, or those who have jobs that put them at risk from other people, like members of the police and the security services, will benefit too.
Being able to register to vote anonymously was first introduced in Great Britain twelve years ago, through the Electoral Administration Act, and enabled someone to register to vote without having their name or address made public. However, this process was fraught with difficulties not least because the only way to register anonymously was by providing a specific court order or injunction and an attestation. The type of person who could provide this attestation confirming an individual’s situation merited them being able to register anonymously was limited and set at a really high level, for example a police superintendent.
We believe that it should be straightforward for people to participate in our elections; today’s new law is a positive step forward for this. From now on what voters can provide as documentary evidence includes additional court orders and extends the list of who can provide attestations so that midwives, nurses, police officers and refuge managers are able to support applications. These are professionals voters come across in their day to day lives and who they are able to form trusting relationships with, making them well placed to provide the attestations.
These professionals, who will now play a vital role in ensuring vulnerable people are able to register to vote, must be supported to understand the changes, that’s why we’ve teamed up with organisations to produce brand new guidance on this new legislation.
Produced with Women’s Aid, and organisations including the Royal College of Midwifes, the guidance will support refuge managers, midwives and local authority electoral services departments to enable their service users to have their say at elections with confidence.
The government has today shown their commitment to removing barriers that prevent voters from exercising their democratic rights. And in the year we mark 100 years since the centenary of the Representation of the People Act that gave some women the right to vote for the first time, it is right that we continue to identify and remove barriers to voting which still remain in 2018.