CONCERNS have been raised about democracy being undermined through a "hidden election crisis" as it emerged nearly one in three potential voters in Scotland aged between 18 and 34 are not registered to vote when they should be.

The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) has made a new call for action after becoming concerned that the numbers on the electoral register for local elections has actually dropped in Scotland since 2014 – despite 16/17-year-olds being allowed to vote.

The latest Electoral Commission information found young people, students and those who have recently moved are least likely groups to be registered.

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It is estimated that between 630,000 and 890,000 potential voters are missing off the register across Scotland.

As of the end of 2018, just 68% of potential Scottish voters aged between 18 and 34 had registered to vote, while 13% of those aged 35-54 had not registered and eight per cent of over 55s.

Just one in three Scots who had lived in their home for up to a year were registered to vote and only 49% of private renters or the register.

“Registering just isn’t on the top of peoples’ to-do list when they’ve just moved house or started their student life”, says the Electoral Commission in its analysis.

The ERS said it wants an electoral "revolution" with moves towards automatic registration saying the current situation is "no basis for fair elections and represents a hidden crisis"

An ERS spokesman said: "Many other countries – including Canada, Finland and Belgium – have more universal voter registration systems, where people can sign up whenever they engage with government bodies, or they are automatically opted in.


ERS are also concerned there are another 400,000 and 745,000 inaccurate entries on the registers in Scotland - with the wrong details for people without them necessarily being prevented from voting.

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And there is growing concern over plans to introduce compulsory photo ID for voters, with the ERS saying that it will suppress voters’ rights with the potential disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of people across the UK.

In a submission to Parliament, the ERS said more needs to be done "to bring our electoral registration system into the 21st century", adding: "We must now look at ways of improving the accuracy and completeness of the electoral registers, and at how registration can be made easier and brought more in line with citizens’ daily lives.

"Ensuring that all eligible voters are able to participate in our democratic processes without undue barriers is vital to a healthy democracy.

"Low registration levels lead to lower turnout, which damages the legitimacy of government.

Willie Sullivan, director of the Electoral Reform Society in Scotland, said: “There are hundreds of thousands of potential voters in Scotland effectively missing from the electoral roll. Combine this with the undemocratic show your papers voter ID policy the Westminster government are proposing, and we’re looking at a dangerous ‘double-whammy’ that could lead to low turnout and millions of voices being excluded from our elections.

“You shouldn’t have to opt into your right to vote, but the UK government are putting more and more hurdles in the way of democratic participation – and certain groups will lose out more than most. It is hard not to see this as the import of US-style voter suppression laws.

“We urge the Scottish government to explore how it can use its powers to ensure everyone has a stake in our democracy and stop the undemocratic imposition of this ‘show your papers’ policy, while closing the registration gap once and for all.

"And we call on all parties in Scotland to commit to our pledge to deepen democracy, not undermine it."

It comes as Parliament was unable to sanction the lowering of the voting age to 16 for the current General Election.

The UK government had said it had no plans to lower the voting age and 18 was widely recognised as the age of adulthood.

The voter ID proposals follow a 2016 report on electoral integrity and would see voters obliged to show official photo ID to polling stations in order to be able to cast their vote. But it is not going to be implemented in time for the General Election on December 12.

The Electoral Commission says that across the country around 3.5 million citizens do not have access to any photo ID, with 11 million citizens lacking a passport or driving license.

Meanwhile, the new legislation would make further changes, including allowing carers to assist voters at polling stations, and place a requirement on returning officers to improve accessibility.

Ministers have also proposed tightening the rules on postal vote collection, by bringing in new measures requiring voters to re-register every three years if they want to vote by mail.

Bob Posner, Electoral Commission chief executive said: “Anyone not yet registered to vote should apply before the registration deadline on November 26. It only takes a few minutes to complete the application."