The government’s attempt to rush through changes to the electoral registration system, which could result in up to 1.9 million people disappearing from the roll, is to be challenged in the House of Lords.
In a rerun of the battles in the last parliament to redraw the constituency boundaries, the Liberal Democrats are opposing the changes, calling them “an outrageous gerrymander”.
The voters likely to fall off the register are mainly in inner-city areas and less likely to vote Conservative.
The Electoral Commission had advised the government in June to spend another year transferring voters on the old household-based register to the new individual register, but ministers want to short-circuit the process so that it is completed by December 2015, and not the end of 2016. The commission says there are 1.9 million names on the household register that are not on the individual register.
The cleaned-up register will form the basis of the parliamentary constituency boundary review to be conducted before the 2020 election that will both reduce the number of seats and see a redrawing of the boundaries in favour of the Conservatives.
The government argues that if the 1.9 million names are kept on the register for a further year, there would be “an unacceptable risk to the accuracy of the register”.
The new boundary review is due to start in 2016, and will lead to fewer urban constituencies.
The Liberal Democrats are set to challenge the changes alongside Labour in the Lords and Commons. The Liberal Democrats said up to 1.9 million people could also be deprived of their vote in the 2016 elections to the Scottish parliament, the Welsh assembly, the London mayoralty and assembly, and to local authorities. Young people, ethnic minorities, private-sector tenants, and those from more socially deprived communities are most likely to be affected.
The change is due to come into effect on 6 August, but can be rejected by the Commons or the Lords at any time before 2 November. Lib Dem MP Tom Brake has tabled a rejection motion in the House of Commons, and Lib Dem constitutional affairs spokesman Lord Tyler has tabled a motion in the Lords, where the government is likely to be defeated.
The Liberal Democrat peer Lord Rennard, who led the successful opposition to the boundary review in the last parliament, said: “The government is ignoring the independent Electoral Commission in pursuit of its own narrow party advantage. Removing nearly two million voters from the register in this way will make the electoral registers significantly less complete and the process for conducting next year’s elections less democratic.
“The proposed change will in effect deny many people the right to vote. There are already major problems with electoral registers missing about 8 million people who should be included. Ministers are now making the problem worse.”
Tyler, who tabled the motion in the Lords, added: “Ministers should be thoroughly ashamed of this sneaky initiative, just before the long summer recess, trying to avoid proper parliamentary scrutiny.
“We anticipate support from all the other opposition parties in the Commons, and also crossbenchers in the Lords, precisely because such changes to electoral law should avoid partisan advantage and seek consensus.
“If the Tories are defeated on such an order – which is unusual but not unprecedented – they will only have themselves to blame for what looks all too like an outrageous gerrymander.”
This article was written by Patrick Wintour Political editor, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 22nd July 2015 16.49 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010