Page last updated at 00:26 GMT, Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Voting fraud crackdown promised

Ballot boxes
The commission has called for individual voter registration before

The government has announced it will introduce individual electoral registration to help curb voting fraud.

Justice minister Michael Wills said the switch from household registration would be a "radical and unprecedented move" for the country.

But he insisted it would only go ahead if a series of tests was met to show the electoral system was ready.

MPs have also backed a measure allowing election candidates to keep their home addresses secret.

There have been several high-profile cases of voting fraud in the last few years.

Identifiers

In the report stage debate on the Political Parties and Elections Bill, Mr Wills said the legislation would be amended in the Lords to lay down a statutory timetable for the introduction of individual registration.

He said: "We will legislate to allow local authority electoral registration officers to collect personal identifiers - date of birth, signature and national insurance number - from electors alongside the existing process of household registration."

Providing these identifiers would, at first, be voluntary - beginning at the autumn 2010 annual canvas.

This is a profound shift. If we get this wrong and large numbers of people fall off the register, it would be a disaster
Michael Wills, justice minister

Mr Wills said the revised system would become compulsory for new registrations by autumn 2015, giving the Electoral Commission time to consider the weight of evidence before moving to full individual registration.

He told MPs: "This is a profound shift. If we get this wrong and large numbers of people fall off the register, it would be a disaster. We can't have this botched."

Individual registration would give more protection against electoral fraud and "enhance legitimacy" in the voting process, he added.

It comes after a series of high profile voting fraud cases and would be coupled with measures to make the electoral register as comprehensive as possible.

Mr Wills said these would include a data-matching scheme, which would be introduced on a pilot basis, to allow electoral registration officers to obtain relevant and restricted data from public authorities.

The data would be used to identify people entitled to be on the register but not currently registered or identify inaccuracies in the register.

'Unsatisfactory'

Revenue and Customs and the Department of Work and Pensions had already been consulted and were "content in principle" with the possibility of sharing data.

Mr Wills insisted the release of data would be "carefully controlled" and subject to a number of safeguards.

An estimated three million eligible people are not able to vote in the UK because they are not registered, which the minister said was "not acceptable".

Liberal Democrat spokesman David Heath said it was "unsatisfactory" that the moves were being introduced in the Lords and that full details had not been made available to MPs.

Electoral Commission chairman Jenny Watson welcomed the government's announcement, saying: "The right to register to vote is of fundamental importance in our democracy - so important that it's something for which individuals should take personal responsibility."

Meanwhile, MPs passed a measure which would allow election candidates to keep their home addresses secret.

Voting was 235 to 176 - a majority of 59 - in favour of the proposal, which follows a campaign by senior Tory Julian Lewis.

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SEE ALSO
UK election laws 'under strain'
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Call to appoint elections supremo
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