Page last updated at 00:35 GMT, Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Watchdog calls for voting reform

Polling box
Tighter voting controls are being considered

The UK's elections watchdog has made a fresh demand for the government to introduce individual voter registration to increase confidence in the system.

The Electoral Commission's chief executive says individuals, not householders, should submit names for voting lists.

Peter Wardle made the comments ahead of a speech to senior council officers.

Ministers have backed the change in principle but refused to commit to early action to bring it in.

Speaking before the elections conference of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, Mr Wardle said: "The electoral register is the bedrock for the rest of our democratic system.

"Only a proper system of individual voter registration can ensure that the system is robust and that voters can have confidence in it."

Voters first

He said it was a "basic right" for UK residents to decide who governs them and expect an election of the highest standards.

"That is why everyone involved in our electoral process, from presiding officers in polling stations to government ministers setting the overall framework, must make sure that we put the interests of voters first in everything we do - and not be afraid to challenge where we believe standards fall short.

"The response from local authorities to the introduction of performance standards has been excellent.

"It means that we can set meaningful standards which will help show how returning officers and electoral registration officers are delivering better electoral services that are putting the voter at the very centre of decision-making."

In 2008, Justice Secretary Jack Straw told the Commons: "Establishing individual registration and ensuring that it works effectively will go beyond 2010" - the latest possible date for the general election.

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