DELAYING voter registration reforms would create a “dangerous and rather silly” risk of increased fraud, a minister said as the Government faced a watchdog-backed showdown in the House of Lords.
Opposition peers will on Tuesday seek to block the bringing forward by a year of the full switchover to a system of individual voter registration, replacing the previous household-based survey.
A “fatal” motion has been tabled that would kill off the measure.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats say removing everyone not signed up under the new arrangement by the start of December risks robbing up to a million people of the chance to vote in May’s elections.
They are backed by the Electoral Commission, which says the risk of disenfranchising large numbers outweighs the chances of a smaller number remaining on the register who should not be.
It has called for the measure to be blocked by Parliament while work continues on the latest annual canvass of households to establish an accurate picture.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has also accused the Tories of seeking to “gerrymander” revised constituency boundaries by ensuring they are based on data that excludes mainly non-Tory backers from inner city areas and from ethnic minorities, who tend to be less likely to be registered.
Shadow justice secretary Lord Falconer said “a very significant number” were likely to be denied the right to vote in elections to the Scottish Parliament, Northern Ireland and Welsh assemblies, the London mayor, police and crime commissioners and English local councils.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme electoral fraud “has not been a major problem” in the UK and that it was more important that the register be complete than accurate.
In its briefing ahead of the vote, the commission said the canvass was expected to “significantly reduce” the number of incorrect entries but would not be finished in time for the December 1 cut-off.
That meant the Government was acting “without reliable information”, and so Parliament should not approve the order changing the date.
But constitutional reform minister John Penrose said the watchdog’s stance was out of step with the officials tasked with running the elections.
“The Electoral Commission aren’t the only independent advisers out there,” he told Today.
“There is also the Association of Electoral Administrators - the frontline experts who experience this day to day. They think it is the right thing to do to go ahead.”
He said only 3-4% of voters remained to be switched and they “will all have been contacted nine times or more by phone, by post, by people knocking on their door, by email.
“We will have confirmed every single legitimate, genuine voter.
“The only ones that will therefore be taken off are ones who have moved house or who have died or who in some cases may never have existed because they were put on the register fraudulently.
“There won’t be genuine electors being disenfranchised.
“At some point you have got to say ‘the job is done’ and with elections on the horizon, it is quite dangerous and rather silly to leave non-real ghosts in the machine, non-real people on the register.
“That is the thing that creates the risk of fraud.”