The Edited Electoral Register (EER) has come under fire in the past few weeks, with a series of reports indicating that the Register is proving to be more trouble than it is worth. To add fuel to the fire, the Local Government Association (LGA) has called for the sale of the EER to be stopped and the register itself to be scrapped.
Councillor Peter Fleming, Chair of the LGA’s Improvement Board has hit the nail on the head with what is wrong with the EER, arguing that councils resent having to pass “the electoral roll onto direct marketing companies”, continuing that “it demeans our democracy for the voters’ details to be sold off to help direct marketing companies make money.”
Indeed, one of the main problems with the EER is that it is of benefit to no one but the very marketing companies that purchase the data. In fact it is especially troublesome for residents who find themselves being deluged with junk mail due to their councils being forced to sell it on.
There could even be a case to keep the EER if was lucrative for councils, yet Big Brother Watch’s research (PDF) highlights that between May 2007 and May 2012 307 councils only raised £265,161.21 between them. In actual fact the duty of selling it on is burdensome to councils, who as Cllr Fleming has pointed out dislike having to pass the information on in the first place.
Another issue with the EER is that many people are either unaware of its existence or do not know that they have the option of opting-out of having their details included in the Register. In fact, polling has shown (PDF) that 79% of people didn’t know they had the power to opt-out. This leaves many residents confused about how their personal details have ended up in the hands of marketers and increases the mistrust that exists in the electoral registration process.
Recent reports have also highlighted that even if people do take steps to opt-out of the EER, many find themselves back on the Register as there is currently no option to permanently opt-out on voter registration forms. This clearly leads to confusion amongst individuals and an unnecessary increased burden on the councils.
The abolition of the EER is something that is now publicly supported by the Electoral Commission, the Association of Electoral Administration, the Local Government Association and Big Brother Watch. For the vast majority of people it is an unnecessary inconvenience and serious consideration should be given to removing it entirely.
It has been said that a sensible middle ground option would be for individuals to have to opt-in to the EER, rather than opt-out. However, we stand by our previous calls to end the sale of voters’ data and abolish the EER. Failure to do this will only result in individuals finding their data on sale when they do not want this to be the case, whilst adding to the already tremendous administrative burden that councils face.