Wednesday, 29 May 2013

SCOOP? IER, sackcloth, ashes and Rip Van Winkle

In the past seven months since 26 October 2012 the DMossEsq blog has published 12 posts whose veracity relies entirely or in part on the contents of the Individual Electoral Registration Bill (IER). Attention is drawn in particular to Identity assurance – shall we vote on it?.

Properly sourced, the assertions made in the 12 blog posts were based on Hansard, parliamentary business news, explanatory notes on the parliament.uk domain, the text of draft Bill, its impact assessment, and a draft statutory instrument.

Quite good.

Not good enough. The Rip Van Winkle of bloggers, DMossEsq missed the fact that (a) the Bill changed its name and (b) it is no longer a Bill, it was enacted on 31 January 2013. The Electoral Registration and Administration Act 2013 is now law.

The Bill provided for electoral register records to be matched against the National Insurance Number database (NINO), among others, to check for completeness and accuracy (integrity). The impact assessment (p.2, Key assumptions/sensitivities/risks) noted that primary legislation would be needed to make this national data-matching legal: "Data matching – national rollout would require primary legislation". That legislation has presumably now been passed and in that case data-matching is no longer illegal.

It is in principle impossible to make an unfair criticism of the Government Digital Service (GDS).

Gallingly, that is precisely what DMossEsq did in a post published yesterday. Assuming that the primary legislation required has been passed, it is no longer illegal for GDS to do data-matching and hasn't been for the best part of four months. In that respect, yesterday's post was factually wrong and misleading, and DMossEsq's apologies are offered without reservation.

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Now that the electoral registration legislation has been passed, the UK moves from registering household-by-household to individual registration. Why? Because, in the words of the Cabinet Office on GOV.UK, that is "more easier":
The Electoral Registration and Administration Act has received Royal Assent. The Act allows Individual Electoral Registration to be introduced in 2014 to help tackle electoral fraud and paves the way for online registration from 2014, which will make it more easier and more convenient for individuals to ensure they are registered to vote.
With a view to enhancing integrity, each individual's entry on the new electoral register will be checked – legally – against NINO and other databases.

The new electoral register will be used for the 2015 general election.

Registration is now compulsory. It's a "civic duty". Failure to register is a criminal offence:
The government believes that it is a civic duty to register to vote, and to support registration officers in their duties a small civil penalty, akin to a parking fine, is being introduced which could only be applied to those who refuse repeated invitations to register. There will also be safeguards to ensure that EROs take specific steps to encourage an application. Under the current system of registering to vote, failure to provide information to an Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) is a criminal offence punishable by a £1,000 fine, leaving a criminal record. This will be maintained under the new system for information about households, to help ensure that the inaction of some does not lead to others being disenfranchised.
The Major Projects Authority tell us that:
The Electoral Registration Transformation Programme will speed up implementation of Individual Electoral Registration (IER) to tackle electoral fraud and improve the integrity of the electoral register. This will include legislation to bring forward implementation of compulsory IER to 2014, ahead of the next general election. Instead of one person filling in the annual registration form and including everyone's details, individuals will be expected to complete their own details and give supporting information - i.e. a national insurance number. Ensuring that the electoral register is as full as possible (i) will lead to increased democratic participation; (ii) gives a “voice” to local people leading to a legitimate political mandate; (iii) assists local people by supporting identification and residence, and (iv) is used as a basis for the collection of national statistics.
Along with legalising data-sharing, increasing "democratic participation" (i), giving a "voice" to local people and legitimising the "political mandate" (ii), note that we will be taking the first step towards an on-line national identity register (iii) and a new way of compiling the census (iv), as promised by Francis Maude, Cabinet Office Minister, please see Alan Travis – Whitehall, the Guardian newspaper and Lord Leveson.

To any other Rip Van Winkles out there, some of that four months-old news may amount to a scoop.

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