LETTERS will be dropping on doormats across Bradford over the next month or so informing voters of what is the biggest change to the country's electoral registration system in a century.
From June it has no longer been down to the head of the household to register everyone to vote at an address. People must register individually and the process can now be completed online for the first time. Designed to make the electoral roll more secure, the individual electoral registration system will mean anyone applying to be on the electoral register will now also need to provide their date of birth and National Insurance number.
The vast majority of people who are registered to vote at the moment will transfer automatically to the new system. Around 80 per cent will simply receive a letter stating that their details have been transferred over and they do not need to do anything. Information will have been successfully checked against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) database, confirming a match.
Some people's details will be partially matched, in which case, Bradford Council's election's unit can use another database, such as council tax records, to conduct further checks. However the remainder could be asked to provide more details before staff are satisfied that everything matches up.
A dry run of the confirmation process conducted last summer showed that 78.9 per cent of entries on the Bradford electoral register at the time could be positively matched with DWP database. But the actual figure varied massively from ward to ward - with a 55.1 per cent success rate in City ward, right up to 84.6 per cent in Wharfedale. All this serves to highlight which areas of the district electoral staff will need to focus their efforts on.
Dale Slingsby, deputy electoral services manager at the Council, said: "The Individual Electoral Registration (IER) system, introduced nationally, means that rather than one person completing an electoral registration form for their household, each person has control over their own registration.
"Most people who were registered to vote before June 2014 should be automatically transferred to IER and will not need to do anything. They will receive a confirmation letter from the Council's electoral services in the next few weeks.
"But some people will need to provide additional information, such as their National Insurance Number and date of birth, while others who are not currently registered will be asked to apply. Anyone falling into either of these categories will receive a letter in July/August 2014 explaining what they need to do.
"These changes to the system are being highlighted in a national publicity campaign by the Electoral Commission."
Anyone not currently registered to vote, or who has recently moved home, will be encouraged to do so. But is is important to note that no one will be removed from the electoral register because of this change to the new system until after the General Election in 2015.
To improve the security around postal voting - something that is a regular conversation around election time in Bradford - existing postal voters who are matched and automatically transferred to the the new register will be able to continue to vote by post. Those who are not matched will need to register individually to remain a postal voter. In addition anyone not registered individually by 12 working days before the General Election next year will not be able to vote by post, although existing electors will still be able to vote in person at a polling station.
The Electoral Commission has been calling for the changes since 2003 and the final pieces of the legislation required were finalised last year. A major public awareness campaign began earlier this month.
Jenny Watson, chairman of the commission, said: “The way we all register to vote is changing in England and Wales. It’s important everyone looks out for a letter from their local council that will tell you if you need to do anything. For the first time ever you can now also register online which makes it quick and easy to do."
She added: “This change is something we’ve been calling for since 2003 and is an important step towards a more modern and secure electoral system. Online registration also helps organisations working with us and others run innovative and exciting voter registration drives that should appeal to young people in particular.”
The commission is also working with organisations to help get as many people registered as possible, such as the National Union of Students and Citizens Advice.
To find out more visit gov.uk/yourvotematters or call 0800 3 280 280.