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United Kingdom: Bill to Modernize Electoral System Considered

(Aug. 3, 2012) The Electoral Registration and Administration Bill 2012, sponsored by the United Kingdom's Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, is one of the coalition government's latest bills from their 2010 Program for Government. (The Electoral Registration and Administration Bill 2012, HL Bill 33; HM Government, The Coalition: Our Programme for Government, 2010.) It aims to modernize the way in which people in the United Kingdom can register to vote, to improve the efficiency of polling centers, and to reduce electoral fraud. The bill had its second reading in the House of Lords on July 24, 2012 and will go on to the committee stage of the House of Lords in late October of this year.

The Bill proposes various changes to the electoral system. Under its provisions, people would have to register to vote individually, as opposed to the current system contained in the Representation of the People Act 1983 (The Representation of the People Act 1983, c.2, ยง10; The Electoral Commission, House of Commons Second Reading), in which several people can be registered at once within a household. Those requiring postal votes or wishing to vote by proxy must register with the new system in order to avail themselves of this service. A new online registration system will also be introduced. There will be penalties imposed on those who fail to register by the given deadlines, as well as a requirement for all people to register to vote within a two-year period. The timetable for parliamentary elections will be extended, in order to give more time for postal votes to be registered.

These changes are intended to improve the way elections are run, increase voter participation, and further improve the integrity of the electoral system. Despite the hopes of the coalition, the bill has been criticized for having the potential to reduce voter turnout. The Labour Party, the main opposition at present in Parliament, has also been critical of the plans, suggesting the reforms are designed to push minorities from the electoral register. (Queen's Speech: Biggest Change to Voter Registration, BBC NEWS (May 09, 2012).)

Prepared by Kirsty McClay, Law Library Intern, under the supervision of Clare Feikert-Ahalt, Senior Foreign Law Specialist.