Emma Hart at Public Address has a great post covering the Electoral Commission’s review of the 2014 election. In the Commission’s report, it expressed a concern about what is currently happening to hard-copy electoral rolls that are being purchased:
If rolls and habitation indexes can be inspected and purchased, it is impossible to ensure that they are not being used for ancillary purposes. Patterns of purchase indicate that rolls are rarely being used for scrutiny purposes.
It makes suggestions about who should and should not have access to electoral roll data:
The Commission recommends that electoral rolls (and habitation indexes) no longer be available for general sale, that the inspection of rolls should be limited to offices of the Commission, and that house/flat/apartment number and occupation information should no longer be included in rolls available for inspection.
This solution does two good things, and one regrettable thing. First, it would pretty much rule out misuse of the rolls for debt collection / product marketing purposes. Good – that isn’t what the electoral roll is for.
Second, if I’m reading it right, it would protect the right of parties and candidates to access electronic copies of the roll for the purposes of election campaigning and electoral scrutiny. Good – if that right gets taken away from all parties, it would serve to massively advantage those parties with the giant bankroll needed to purchase lists of names and addresses privately, skewing elections in their favour.
The regrettable part is that this solution would perpetuate the current double standard where it is OK to run a civic participation campaign using roll information if out are also standing in the election, but not if you are a non-partisan, pro-turnout group. That the Commission is recommending continuing with this double standard is pretty ironic1, given that elsewhere the Commission is out there encouraging civic society to help encourage people to vote.
For my part, I think you can achieve what the Commission wants without the double standard. Here’s how:
That solution gets rid of roll use for debt-collection, maintains political party access, but also removes the unfair advantage political parties have over other genuine participants in the electoral process.