Paging Mr Mander: Mr ‘Gerry’ Mander

By DeusExMacintosh

As many as 10 million voters, predominantly poor, young or black, and more liable to vote Labour, could fall off the electoral register under government plans, the Electoral Commission, electoral administrators and psephologists warned .

The changes will pave the way for a further review of constituency boundaries that will reduce the number of safe Labour seats before the 2020 election.

MPs on the political and constitutional reform select committee only realised the implications of the plans following three evidence sessions with election experts over the past week to examine the white paper which proposes to introduce individual electoral registration rather than household registration before the 2015 election.

The committee chairman, Labour MP Graham Allen, said they were “genuinely shocked”. Even Tory members such as Eleanor Laing expressed surprise.

The policy has been described by Jenny Russell, the chair of the electoral commission, as the biggest change to voting since the introduction of the universal franchise.

Ministers have unexpectedly proposed that it should no longer be compulsory to co-operate with electoral registration officers (EROs) when they try to compile an accurate register, in effect downgrading the civic duty to engage with politics.

Russell warned: “It is logical to suggest that those that do not vote in elections will not see the point of registering to vote and it is possible that the register may therefore go from a 90%completeness that we currently have to 60-65%.”

John Stewart, chairman of the electoral registration officers, said the drop-off was likely to be 10% in “the leafy shires” but closer to 30% in inner city areas. He said there would be an incentive not to register as the list is used for jury service and to combat credit fraud. He said he expected large numbers of young voters would not register.

The Cabinet Office, overseen by Nick Clegg, which had already decided there would be no household canvass in 2014 to save money, is introducing individual registration before the 2015 general election. The Electoral Commission said the change would mean 10% of the electorate could fall off the register in as many as 300 local authority areas.

The full effect of voluntary individual registration will be felt at the 2020 general election because the constituency boundaries for that election will be based on a voluntary individual register compiled in December 2015.

The projected 30% fall off in registered voters, weighted towards poorer voters, would require the boundary commission to reduce the number of inner-city Labour seats because the Boundary Commission is required to draw up constituencies with the sole objective of equalising the size of the electorates and not to take into account natural or political borders.

It is already estimated that as many as 3 million people currently eligible to vote do not register even though it is compulsory to co-operate with the compilation of the registry.

The Guardian

*apologies to Bertolt Brecht

18 Comments

  1. Patrick
    Posted September 17, 2011 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    Doesn’t seem like that big a deal to me, if they don’t want to vote they don’t want to vote?

  2. Posted September 17, 2011 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    I’m with Patrick. What’s the fuss about? (if any)

  3. Posted September 17, 2011 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    I’m a fan of compulsory voting … even if most are apathetic – it diminishes the voice of the fanatic minority.

  4. Posted September 17, 2011 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    Just a technical point: gerrymandering is setting electoral boundaries so as to maximise the seat-winning effect of your voters and minimise those of the other mob’s voters. Comes from Gov. Gerry of Massuchusetts who notoriously arranged to have a long thin electorate which looked like a salamander (hence, Gerry-mander). Has nothing to do with how many voters there are.

    Malaportionment is where seats vary significantly in number of voters. The UK electoral system has some anti-Tory malaportionment, since Scotland has more seats than its population warrants and the practice of having “rest of county” seats creates Tory-voting rural seats with considerably more voters than some of the Labour borough seats. It also has nothing to do with total number of voters.

  5. Posted September 17, 2011 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Gerrymandering is fairly endemic in the US. Oz has been more often known for malaportionment: for example, both sides of Queensland politics have avidly practised it for most of the C20th but there was plenty of it in other States too.

  6. Posted September 17, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    I think the Grauniad is beating this up a bit. Yes, most of these ten million could be expected to be more likely to vote Labour than Tory, but since they’re far more likely not to vote for anyone at all there’ll be little or no difference with them not being on the electoral roll. I suspect many live in areas which are safe Labour seats despite high levels of voter apathy and low turnout, and they’d remain safe Labour seats under the current system.

    @ Dave Bath – compulsory voting confuses right and obligation: if you have the right to vote they’d have the right to withhold it, and if you can’t then I don’t think you can call it a right. I withheld my vote at the last UK election because I felt all five candidates were equally and irredeemably shite (actually I asked my proxy to spoil the ballot paper but I could have just told her not to bother, and even spoiling the paper as a first for me). I thought the same thing a few months later in the Australian election but of course we all have to go or be punished.

    I think a better way might be a carrot and stick approach, the carrot being the addition of a ‘none of the above’ option to reject all candidates and the automatic triggering of a by election if that option gets more than 50% of the vote, and the stick being that no MP is elected at all and the seat stays empty for that term if fewer than 50% of the electorate actually vote. I didn’t look at the numbers for the last UK election but going from memory there were a couple of dozen MPs, including a few front benchers and well known names, elected on <50% turnouts in 05 and 01. When the largest vote in these constituencies was for the 'apathy party' why shouldn't the result reflect? And come the next election you can be pretty sure the voter turnout would go right up not just in that seat but in any where turnout tends to be low. Well, probably it would, but I suppose it's also possible that people will decide that not having a fat, overcompensated, venal, nest-feathering prick representing his own views in Parliament rather than theirs really isn't all that bad after all and stay away from the polls again.

  7. kvd
    Posted September 17, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    You can lead the hordes to oughta, but you cannot make them think.

  8. Posted September 17, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    The Scottish situation has now been fixed – some time before the last election, in fact, with the number of seats now reflecting the population (this process was set in train at devolution). There is still anti-Tory malaportionment, but it seems to be exclusively in England and yes, it did get worse under Blair. Scotland now has 59 MPs; it used to have 72.

    The ‘West Lothian’ question remains unresolved, but that may not matter in the future as Scotland is now trending SNP and in any case Labour is out of office. I suspect this is just the Tories getting their own back, because some of the stunts Labour pulled in England really did look like gerrymandering.

  9. Movius
    Posted September 17, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    South Australia had the Playmander. Which was, much like other “-manders”, malapportionment and not gerrymandering.

    Fortunately that was fixed in the 70s. Maybe one day the federal government will see the wisdom of one vote-one value.

  10. Posted September 17, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    Australia of course has the “constitutional-mander” (someone think of a less clumsy word please) which says Tasmania must have a minimum of 5 electorates in federal parliament. Tasmania’s current population is enough for 3 seats only.

  11. ben
    Posted September 17, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

    I don’t see how either situation is really any worse than the other 🙂 the guardian should have written an article about Labour keeping this law that increases its voter base.

  12. Posted September 17, 2011 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    SATP @11: the ‘Tassiemander’? Or is that too boring?

  13. Patrick
    Posted September 18, 2011 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    The poor cousins rule? 😉

  14. Posted September 18, 2011 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    [email protected] ROFL

    [email protected] It was part of the original Federation deal.

    A wicked part of me wants to say “it is a premium for the extra heads”.

  15. Adrien
    Posted September 18, 2011 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    compulsory voting confuses right and obligation:

    No it makes one the other as well.

    I withheld my vote at the last UK election because I felt all five candidates were equally and irredeemably shite

    In Adam Bandt’s seat where I live there is a Nazi Skinhead. I am not making this up. This guy’s about 45 has SS tatts, swastikas the whole palava. Now I don’t know exactly how he voted but I suspect the paper ruled invalid with the words All C*nts scribbled over it might have been his.

  16. Jonathan D
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Lorenzo (and [email protected]), I don’t think anyone’s using hte gerry mander label with respect to total number of voters. The point is that if seats are apportioned with respect to registered voters, then any lack of uniformity in registration can lead to malapportionment with respect to those eligble to register.

    Has anything been said about the effect on juries, apart from that being considered as one of the disincentive to registering in the first place?

  17. Posted September 19, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    In terms of accuracy of makeup, you mean Jonathan? Not so far, very good point though.

    I think it was a real mistake to expand the availability of electoral roll information to commercial purposes – that’s not what it’s for. In the UK we are now able to opt out of the ‘public register’, but while that removes our details from direct marketers and casual enquirers, the credit reference agencies (which are entirely commercial entities) still have unlimited access. I have a problem with this.

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