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Millions Missing from Electoral Roll as Voters Face Double Whammy of Registration Issues and Photo ID

In some constituencies, one-fifth of potential voters have not signed up to the electoral roll, new analysis reveals

Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA/Alamy

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More than 7.6 million eligible voters in England and Wales are missing from the electoral roll, according to new analysis by the Electoral Reform Society. 

With major elections scheduled for this year – including the general election and a sweep of police and crime commissioner, local council and mayoral elections – the scale of the registration gap could dramatically impact outcomes. 

The constituency with the highest number of unregistered voters is the Cities of London and Westminster – where 24,320 people are missing from the electoral roll. This means that 20.3% of the eligible population is missing from the electoral roll. 

The rest of the ‘bottom five’ worst-performing seats by proportion of missing voters are: Leeds Central and Headingley, Bristol Central, Sheffield Central, and Liverpool Riverside. All are missing about one-fifth of potential voters from their rolls.

The data is based on new boundaries that will be in place for this year’s general election. 

London accounts for 14 of the 20 constituencies which have the highest proportion of unregistered voters – believed to be in large part due to its high proportion of young, insecurely-housed people and foreign nationals. 

Constituency (New Boundaries)Region/NationTotal Missing% of Population Missing
Cities of London & WestminsterLondon2432020.3
Leeds Central & HeadingleyYorkshire & Humber2146420.2
Bristol CentralSouth West1836419.6
Sheffield CentralYorkshire & Humber1755719.5
Liverpool RiversideNorth West2284619.4
Kensington & BayswaterLondon2534019.1
Bermondsey & Old SouthwarkLondon2036419.0
Poplar & LimehouseLondon2603818.8
Holborn & St PancrasLondon1984518.7
Manchester RusholmeNorth West2068418.7
Bethnal Green & StepneyLondon2330118.4
Islington South & FinsburyLondon2120618.3
Hackney South & ShoreditchLondon2053418.2
Vauxhall & Camberwell GreenLondon1881218.2
Clapham & Brixton HillLondon1907618.2
Manchester CentralNorth West2211218.1
Chelsea & FulhamLondon2141517.9
Queen’s Park & Maida ValeLondon2206717.8
Stratford & BowLondon2267017.8
Islington NorthLondon1937517.6
Credit: ERS

The capital does not account for any of the 20 seats with the lowest numbers missing from the register.

Cheadle in the North West has the lowest proportion of voters who are unregistered, at 9.5%, followed by Sefton Central, and York Outer. 

The findings fire the starting gun for voter registration drives which will need to be stepped up as voters in all of England and Wales approach elections this May for police and crime commissioners, and many mayors and councils in England. 

This year, voters have to grapple with the need to show photographic ID too, adding another barrier for those planning to vote. Around two million people lack eligible forms of ID.

Initiatives by groups such as Shout Out UK and My Vote My Voice aim to bolster participation, particularly in under-represented communities. This effort mirrors the surge seen in 2019, when more than three million new registrations were recorded in the run-up to the General Election, compared to 2.3 million in the same period before the 2017 vote.

But any surge is likely to put a strain on electoral registration officers, not least given the  high volume of duplicate registrations. There is no way for people to check online if they are already registered to vote, meaning that many individuals end up accidentally applying to register twice. 

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Campaign groups including the ERS and Unlock Democracy are calling for a shift to ‘automatic voter registration’ (AVR) – a move they argue could transform levels of voter engagement in the UK. 

Thea Ridley-Castle, research and policy officer for the Electoral Reform Society, said: “The health of our democracy demands a move to automatic voter registration.

“Sweden uses an automatic voter registration model. All persons who qualify to be included on the Swedish Tax Agency’s population register 30 days before the election day are automatically registered and mailed a polling card. In 2022, the voting age population of Sweden was 8.1 million, over 7.75 million people were registered to vote, and turnout was 84%. 

“In America, 23 states and the District of Columbia have approved AVR and more states are expected to pass similar provisions… In the first six months after AVR was implemented in Vermont in 2017, registration rates jumped 62% when compared to the first half of 2016. Automatic Voter Registration is tried and tested. It’s time it came to the UK.”

Estimates are based on ONS 2021 Census population figures and Electoral Commission data on registration levels by housing tenure. The figures include the entire over-16 population (as 16- and 17-year-olds may register as attainers) but does not account for nationality or citizenship as these are not included in the data. This is consistent with Electoral Commission data on registration.

See the numbers of voters missing in your consistuency here. 

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Byline Times and the Bylines Network want to launch the most ambitious monitoring project for this year’s elections – #VoteWatch24. We will be coordinating hundreds of volunteers across the country to show what’s really happening on the ground by sending in news from constituencies across the UK.

Wherever there is voter suppression, misinformation, or dodgy funds, we’ll be here to call it out. Across Britain, months ahead of polling day, the work is about to begin.

But we need your support to make this crucial project a reality. If we don’t make this effort, no one else will. Can you help us cover the staff and infrastructure we need to make it possible?

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Josiah Mortimer also writes the On the Ground column, exclusive to the print edition of Byline Times.

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