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Data-matching won't help much with electoral registration

Report: Addresses may not match between records

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Data-matching will be of limited use to the government in introducing individual electoral registration, especially in identifying potential electors, says a report by Parliament's political and constitutional reform committee.

The document, titled Individual Electoral Registration and Electoral Administration, recommends that the Electoral Commission publishes its evaluations of 20 data-matching pilots ahead of legislative changes.

The pilots are being used to test whether electoral registration officers can use public databases to identify people eligible to vote but missing from the electoral register. The government hopes to assess whether these schemes should be rolled out more widely in 2012.

Representatives of three local authorities told the committee that the data-matching pilots had been "for all of us... very, very labour intensive". The three councils had hired additional staff to help run the projects, boosting staffing levels in their electoral registration sections by between 50 per cent and 100 per cent.

Julian Bassham, electoral services manager for Southwark council, told committee that data-matching "has been more successful for us at this stage in telling us what we do know rather than what we don't know ... At the moment it does not look, from our side, like the DWP data will necessarily answer those questions."

According to the report, addresses may not match between records because they have been input differently, or because house names have changed.

In Southwark, for example, 25 per cent of Department for Work and Pensions records could not be matched to properties in the borough as recorded by the local authority.

The report points out that the way personal data is handled will be crucial to the success and popularity of individual registration. But the government's white paper on individual electoral registration, published in June, does not provide details of the practicalities of how data should be treated.

The government has proposed that national insurance number data should be disposed of once an identity had been verified, and the report notes that neither the Association of Electoral Administrators nor the Information Commissioner's Office raised concerns about privacy issues.

Graham Allen, chair of the committee, said: "Getting individuals to take responsibility for their own votes is the right thing to do, but it needs to be done in the right way. There are real risks in moving to a new system, not least that people with the right to vote could fall off the electoral roll in large numbers.

"The transition to individual registration will only be a true success if the electoral rolls become not only more accurate but also more complete."

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

Guardian Government Computing is a business division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.

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