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David Amess MP: The Edited Electoral Register – don’t edit it out of existence

Amess DavidDavid Amess is the Member of Parliament for Southend West

There are two versions of the electoral register – a full and an ‘edited’ version. The Edited Electoral Register (EER) was introduced in 2002 in order that the Full Register could be restricted for use in elections and very limited other purposes, leaving the EER to be used by business, government, the voluntary sector and individuals.  The EER is indispensable because it is the only UK wide database of people which is collated specifically with their consent.  It has considerable value both to society and the economy, and it is why I welcomed the Government’s decision last year to save the EER.

There are some common misconceptions about the EER: That it increases the incidence of fraud by making private data public, and; that it makes junk mail possible.  Both are misjudged.  Firstly, almost all online retailers rely on the EER to prevent both identity and credit card fraud. This edited version is also used for a whole host of other positive reasons: for example, by people and charities such as the Salvation Army to reunite missing families or the Antony Nolan Trust to locate bone marrow donors, journalists to validate stories as well as businesses to reduce their exposure to fraud.

Secondly, the EER in fact permits direct mail companies and fundraisers to remove people from their target mailshots and to ensure a greater degree of accuracy.  Unaddressed mailings are easily dealt with – but the easiest way is to register with the ‘Mail Preference Service’ which allows your details to be removed for unsolicited post.

But as we move to Individual Electoral Registration (IER), the EER - though saved – is still at risk of being undermined. The Cabinet Office has an important opportunity to maintain and strengthen this valuable resource.

Under IER, many electors will now be able to make their own choice about whether to remain on the EER. At present, whoever fills in the form effectively makes this decision.   Voters should be able to independently choose for themselves whether they want to recognise the case by charities, businesses and credit agencies to use their data. As a Conservative MP, I believe that business is the driver of economic growth and innovation and that being on the EER is just one of many areas we can take action to support enterprise.

Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) play a vital role in our democratic process and I know how hard those in my constituency of Southend West work too.  Believing that the Edited Register is the source for all junk mail, some EROs have mistakenly decided to encourage voters to opt-out from it and have thus undermined its value. Some EROs have done this through guidance which is misleading.  Other have promoted practices such as ‘pre-ticking’ the option box in favour of opting out from the Edited Register with the consequence that their choice to opt-out or not is effectively removed. Some have done both.

The whole situation has become confused.  The simplest solution surely is to include a tick-box which would opt voters out of direct marketing use.  This should not be pre-ticked by the local authority.  It should be for each individual voter to decide.  The Government should then oblige EROs to issue consistent and balanced guidance about the pros and cons of being on the Edited Register so voters can make an informed choice for themselves.

None of this would involve extra cost.  All of this would give greater choice to the individual.  And that, afterall, is what this was supposed to be about in the first place.


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