The new voter registration system could disenfranchise thousands of people across Croydon, and may help the Conservatives regain control of the Town Hall or assist gaffe-prone Gavin Barwell to cling on to his position as an MP next year.
That’s the view of some who are concerned about the new system of individual registration, which was advised – but never explained – to the borough’s residents last month by the electoral registration officer, Nathan Elvery, who is also the council’s CEO (a job which was never advertised).
Some are suggesting that the automatic re-registration of the borough’s voters by the Electoral Commission, as administered locally by Elvery, is deeply flawed.
It is being claimed that not only will the new auto-registration system entrench all the errors in the previous system, but it will also deter many thousands of younger and less well-educated residents, including many for whom English is a second language, from being able to exercise their democratic rights.
And since voters in these latter groups tend not to be Tory supporters, the loss of their vote will benefit Conservative candidates in future elections, beginning in the key marginal battleground of Croydon Central at next year’s General Election.
Anyone over 18 years of age who is not on the electoral register on May 7 will not be allowed to vote, which is why clear and unambiguous advice about how to register to vote under the new individual system is so important. And although the lack of clear advice from Croydon is not unique among local authorities, it does make Elvery’s somewhat laissez faire attitude to the voter registration letter he sent out seem somewhat suspicious.
The statistics suggest that as an electoral registration officer, Elvery ought to have a civic duty to do a better job of ensuring everyone who is entitled to vote is properly registered. Yet according to national figures, just 56 per cent of eligible 19- to 24-year-olds are on the electoral register. Among the over-65s, 94 per cent are properly registered. Politically, that imbalance will benefit the right.
If you are not registered to vote, not only are you not allowed to vote, but you are not even considered when it comes to generating the election turn-out figures. You may as well not exist.
In the past, one member of a household could sign up everyone living at the property on to the electoral register. Under the changes, now every person has to sign up individually or they can expect to be turned away at the ballot box.
So Elvery’s letter to Croydon last month went out to everyone already on the electoral roll, and told them they would be re-registered individually automatically.
This is Croydon Council: have you actually checked whether you have been registered?
And what if you were not on the electoral roll, even if you are entitled to be? Well then, you probably didn’t even merit being sent one of those letters from the borough’s Electoral Registration Officer. As Catch 22s go, this would make Joseph Heller look like an amateur.
A large part of the problem is that, here in the 21st century, we are still using a largely 18th century system of registration and voting. On-the-day registration? Oh no. Online voting? Don’t be silly.
Much of the conservatism (small “c”) around voting registration is the quite correct concern about deterring and preventing election fraud. Under the current, archaic system, there have been just 10 proven cases of electoral registration fraud in the past four years.
So it must work? In truth, no one really knows. These are somewhat self-serving Electoral Commission figures: what if local registration officers, such as Elvery, don’t do their jobs properly and don’t seek out suggestions of mis-registrations and out-and-out fiddles? Then they don’t find any instances of electoral fraud, and so there’s no problem. Sweet.
The new system certainly does not appear any more secure. You can now register online, but there’s no signature or paper trail required by the authorities to check your registration.
And this is where the political conspiracy theorists get a bit more ammunition.
The registration changes have been introduced under a Government that is led by a Conservative party that has failed to win at a General Election for 20 years. The same Tory party that was thwarted in its attempts to push through a series of boundary changes which would have benefited… the Tory party. And the same Conservatives who have handed an independence referendum to Scotland, which returns 40 Labour MPs to Westminster but has but a lonely single Tory MP (cue jokes about more pandas in Edinburgh Zoo…).
On a more parochial level, back here at Inside Croydon Towers, our loyal reader has been in touch to suggest that there are some areas in the north of the borough where “cultural differences” may have been exploited so that some residents get to vote more than once. “Some use their surname first and their first name last to register at an address different from their home address,” our loyal reader tells us.
They also make some shocking allegations. “Some voters use the address of a friend to register but don’t live there. Some friends and relatives innocently let friends and relatives register at their address without realising the consequences.
“The registered address is then used to open bank accounts and get credit cards in different names, too.
“The council should make an effort to clean up the voters register by visiting every single property in Croydon and making sure only those who live there are registered to vote.”
The idea has some merit. But we can’t see that happening as long as Nathan Elvery’s the Electoral Registration Officer.
- To find out more about the voter registration changes, read this Q&A on the BBC website
- You can register to vote on line here (you will need your National Insurance number)
- And if you would like to vote by post, then email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and address, and stating that you would like a postal vote.
- Exclusive readers’ offer: a free glass of wine for diners at Albert’s Table
- Special readers’ offer: 25% off meals at PizzaExpress Purley
Coming to Croydon
- Mythical Maze stories, Crystal Palace Maze, Aug 27
- David Lean Cinema: Frank, Aug 28
- Upper Norwood Library well-being groups, Aug 30
- David Lean Cinema: The Two Faces of January, Sep 4
- David Lean Cinema: Fading Giglolo, Sep 6
- Thornton Heath Festival, Sep 7
- Stop the Incinerator Quiz Night, Sep 8
- David Lean Cinema: Camille Claudel, Sep 11
- Warlingham rugby dinner with international Richard Hill, Sep 12
- Soul Symphony Community Choir sessions, Sep 16-Dec 23
- Norwood Society Talk: War Memorials, Sep 18
- David Lean Cinema: Chef, Sep 18
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Sep 20
- Open House London weekend, Sep 20-21
- David Lean Cinema: A Night At The Cinema in 1914, Sep 22
- Activity to Work back-to-work workshops, Sep 23
- David Lean Cinema: Jimmy’s Hall, Sep 25
- Streatham Common 6M race, Sep 27
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Oct 18
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough: 407,847 page views (Jan-Jun 2014) If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or local event, please email us with full details at email@example.com