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Civil Service

Modernising voter registration - the unsung story

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Philip Rycroft
Philip Rycroft, Second Permanent Secretary, Head of UK Governance Group, Cabinet Office

On 5 May, voters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will vote in their Parliamentary and Assembly elections. Voters in England will, in various combinations, vote for mayors, police and crime commissioners, and local authority councillors.

These elections will determine the political landscape in parts of the UK for the next few years. So, across the Civil Service, I’m sure we will be watching the results with interest and working out what the outcomes will mean for our business, whatever our line of work.

Overseeing the system

Elections, of course, are the fundamental expression of democracy. Someone has to oversee the system, to make sure that the rules are fit for purpose and are observed, that the right people are entitled to vote and to encourage them to exercise their democratic right.

Electoral Registration Officers in local authorities, who become Returning Officers around election time, have a critical role to manage the electoral process in their areas. The independent Electoral Commission regulates the whole system, charged with ensuring its integrity and observance of the rules.

Transformational change

But here in the Cabinet Office we also have a central part to play. Our most important challenge has been a fundamental shift in the way in which voter registration works. Until 2014, registering voters was effectively a job for the ‘head of household’, a concept derived from the Victorian era that was well past its sell-by-date. Now every eligible individual is responsible for their own registration.

There’s an unsung story here of the successful delivery of a complex and vitally important piece of democratic infrastructure for individual elector registration. We’ve designed and built the system that has so far seen applications to register from more than 15 million voters online. Our website consistently has a satisfaction rate of 95%. This has been truly transformational change, bringing our system of electoral registration into the 21st-century.

Don't lose your vote!

Registering to vote means being able to exercise your democratic rights. It’s as simple and as important as that. And it’s never been easier to register – a three-minute task online at

We have another democratic moment of enormous significance on 23 June, the EU referendum. Deadline for registration for that is 7 June. If you haven’t already registered yourself, get on line and do it – don’t lose your democratic entitlement! And encourage friends, family and acquaintances to do likewise. Everyone who is entitled to, should make sure they have the chance to have their say.

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