Electoral roll

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The electoral roll (also called an electoral register or poll book) is a listing of all those registered to vote in a particular electoral district as part of an electoral system. The main function of an electoral roll is to combat electoral fraud by enabling authorities to verify the identity and entitlement to a vote of applicants, and to streamline voting on election day, and to ensure a person doesn't vote multiple times. In jurisdictions where voting is compulsory, the electoral roll is used to indicate who has failed to vote. They may also be used to select people for jury duty.

Electoral rolls, under various names, are used in, for example, the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, but not all jurisdictions require voter registration as a prerequisite for voting, such as in the State of North Dakota in the United States. Most jurisdictions close updating of electoral rolls some period, commonly 14 or 28 days, before an election, but some American jurisdictions allow registration at the same time as attending a polling station to vote, and Australia closes the rolls 7 days after an election is called, rather than with reference to election day.

Traditionally, electoral rolls were maintained in paper form, either as loose-leaf folders or in printed pages, but nowadays electronic electoral rolls are increasingly being adopted.

Australia[edit]

A permanent Commonwealth electoral roll, first compiled in 1908 and now maintained by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), is used for federal elections and referendums. It also forms the basis of state (except in Western Australia, which compiles its own) and local electoral rolls.[1]

Enrolment has been compulsory for all eligible voters since 1911 (with the exception of Norfolk Island, where enrolment is voluntary). Eligible voters are Australian citizens over the age of 18 years. Residents in Australia who had been enrolled as British subjects in 1984, though not Australian citizens, can continue to be enrolled. (These comprise about 9% of the electoral roll.) Since 2009, New South Wales has drawn information from various government departmental sources to automatically enroll eligible electors onto the state roll, but not the federal roll.[2]

Currently, the electoral roll records just the name and address of the voter, although in previous years occupation was also recorded. Since 21 July 2004 the Commonwealth electoral roll cannot be sold in any format. It has not been produced in printed format since 1985, when it changed to publication on microfiche. Today it is only produced in an electronic format, and can only be viewed at an AEC office, each of which holds a copy of the electoral roll for the entire country. These arrangements try to strike a balance between privacy of the voters and the publication of the roll, which is integral to the conduct of free and fair elections, enabling participants to verify the openness and accountability of the electoral process and object to the enrolment of any elector.

Hong Kong[edit]

The electoral roll in Hong Kong is maintained by the Registration and Electoral Office (REO). The final register is available every year on 25 July, except for years in which elections for the territory's district councils are held, when the final register is available on 15 September. All permanent residents of the territory, a status which required seven years of continuous residence, are eligible to be registered voters regardless of nationality or citizenship. [3]

Ireland[edit]

The electoral register in Ireland is maintained by the local authorities and all residents that have reached 18 years of age in the state may register at the address in which they are 'ordinarily resident'. Each November a draft register is published after house-to-house enquiries. The register then comes into force the following February after time for appeals and additions. A supplementary register is published which allows voters to make alterations (usually change of address or becoming 18 years of age) prior to voting day. Postal votes are restricted to certain occupations, students and the disabled or elderly resident away from their home. There is also provision for special voters that are usually physically disabled.

While all residents can be registered voting in Ireland depends on citizenship. All residents are entitled to vote in local authority elections. Irish and EU citizens may vote in European parliament elections. Irish and UK citizens may vote in elections to Dáil Éireann. Only Irish citizens may vote in elections for the President and in constitutional referendums.

The electoral register for elections to the six university seats in Seanad Éireann is maintained by the National University of Ireland and University of Dublin. Irish citizens that are graduates of these universities over 18 years of age may register. Voting is by postal vote and residence in the state is not required.

New Zealand[edit]

Electoral rolls have been used in New Zealand since the late nineteenth century, and some are available in public libraries for genealogical research.[4] Traditionally, the Māori indigenous people have had separate electoral registration; electoral rolls for the Māori were introduced in 1948. In 1975 electors of Māori descent were given the choice of whether to register on the Maori or "general" electoral registers, a choice which allows those who wish for the former to vote for MPs from Māori electorates.[5]

United Kingdom[edit]

Within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom, the right to register for voting extends to all British, Republic of Ireland, Commonwealth and European Union citizens. British citizens[clarification needed] living overseas may register for up to 15 years after they were last registered at an address in the UK.[6] It is possible for someone to register before their 18th birthday as long as they will reach that age before the next revision of the register.

The register is compiled for each polling district, and held by the electoral registration office. In the United Kingdom, this office is located at the local council (district, borough, or unitary level). In Scotland, the offices are sometimes located with councils, but may also be separate. Northern Ireland has a central Electoral Office run by the government.

At present, the register is compiled by sending an annual canvas form to every house (a process introduced by Representation of the People Act 1918). A fine of up to £1,000 (level 3 on the Standard scale) can be imposed for giving false information. Up to 2001, the revised register was published on 15 February each year, based on a qualifying date of 10 October, and a draft register published on 28 November the previous year. From 2001 as a result of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, the annual 'revised' register is published on 1 December, although it is possible to update the register with new names each month between January and September.

The register has two formats. The full version of the register is available for supervised inspection by anyone, by legal right. It is this register that is used for voting and its supply and use is limited by law. Copies of this register are available to certain groups and individuals, such as credit reference agencies and political parties.

An 'edited' or 'open' version of the register, which omits those people who have chosen to 'opt out', can be purchased by anyone for any purpose. Some companies provide online searchable access to the edited register for a fee.[7]

The Information Commissioner's Office, Electoral Commission, Local Government Association and the Association of Electoral Administrators have called for the abolition of the edited register. The organisations believe that the register should only be used for purposes related to elections and referendums and that the sale of voters' personal details is a practice that may discourage people from registering to vote. The Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee recommended the abolition of the edited register in its report on the Government’s proposals for individual electoral registration and other electoral administration provisions. Other organisations, including credit reference agencies, debt collection agencies and direct marketing companies have argued for the retention of the edited register. However, notwithstanding the above, Mark Harper MP, as Minister for Political and Constitutional Affairs, announced during the committee stage of the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill 2012-13 on 25 June 2012 that the edited register will be retained. http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/SN06198

The full register contains the following information:

  • elector number (one or more characters indicating the polling district, followed by a number)
  • elector's name and address
  • date of birth (if 18th birthday falls within a year of the register is published)
  • if the elector has requested a postal vote

A 'Marked Register' is a copy of the register that has a mark by the name of each elector who has voted.[8] It serves as the record of who has voted in the election, and it is kept for a year after the election.[9] After an election anyone can inspect the marked register, and certain people can purchase a copy of it.[8] The marked register does not indicate who electors voted for, nor does it contain ballot paper numbers.[10]

Plans for a Coordinated Online Register of Electors (CORE) are underway; the intention being to standardise local registers and permit central data access.

It was suggested that the register data could be taken from the data that was to be held on the proposed Citizen Information Project [1], or on the National Identity Register [2]. In January 2005 the Constitutional Affairs Committee and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister began a joint inquiry into reforming the registration system. In January 2010 the Identity Documents Act 2010 repealed the Identity Cards Act 2006 which set up the National Identity Register.

Despite widespread calls for its introduction, the Electoral Administration Act 2006 did not provide for individual elector registration, on the justification that registration levels would fall. However, the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009 introduced a move from a system of household registration to a system of individual electoral registration in Great Britain.[11]

United States[edit]

In the United States electoral rolls are commonly referred to as poll books. They have been used since the founding to determine voting eligibility. Today, poll books are a list of persons who are eligible to vote in an election. In the United States, the roll is usually managed by a local entity such as a county or parish. However, the data used for electoral rolls may be provided by statewide sources. While traditional poll books are printed voter rolls, more recently electronic pollbooks have come into favor. Computerized electoral rolls allow for larger numbers of voters to be handled easily and allows for more flexibility in poll locations and the electoral process.

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