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Removing barriers: safe voter registration for survivors of domestic abuse

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Head and shoulders of Anna Mathew
Anna Mathew

The details of how you register to vote anonymously don’t match up with the real lives of many survivors of abuse.

I learnt this while reviewing anonymous electoral registration policy. I worked closely with well-informed external stakeholders from the start of this process. I prioritised the needs of potential users of the scheme to shape a realistic policy. And I got feedback from potential applicants on their view of the process.

At a roundtable on anonymous registration chaired by the Minister for the Constitution, Chris Skidmore, I learnt how survivors of domestic abuse couldn’t access the scheme. This was despite the fact that it was created for people in situations like theirs. I began to understand the impact this had on them. They had already been disempowered in many other ways. Being unable to register to vote was a further loss of the ability to assert themselves. They were unable to exercise their rights. I also learnt from electoral officials about what reforms would be workable at their end.

Following the roundtable, we worked with representatives of domestic abuse organisations and electoral administrators in the development of the thinking on the policy. These groups provided a useful perspective. They could look at the range of things we could propose and tell us which would work well in practice. They also knew which changes would align with the experience of survivors of abuse.

These perspectives led me to the questions I needed to ask to develop the reforms in today's policy statement. For example: as a survivor of abuse, who would you meet in your journey away from your abuser to safety? What kind of ‘official’ or less official people would you be likely to have contact with, and at what level of seniority would that contact be? And at what point in your journey would you make that contact? Would it be early on, immediately after escaping your abuser? Or would it be later, when you’d had more time to think about things like trying to register to vote? How sustained would your contact with each of these people be? How well informed would they be about the details of your situation? And for how long would you need to register in this way?

Ballot boxAnonymous registration should help people living with risks to their safety; making the process match that purpose in practice, and allowing those who have been abused full freedom to take part in  the democratic process.

And as we move forward with the reforms, there are more challenges ahead. Parts of this area of electoral law are being devolved to Scotland this year and to Wales in 2018. We will need to continue to work more closely in the coming months as legislation will need to happen at the same time across Great Britain. This legislation will have to be coherent in the specific detail for applicants in England, Scotland and Wales.

The Government is inviting feedback on all the proposals. Comments should be sent to the Cabinet Office at We want the reforms to be as collaborative as possible.

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