Monday, 22 September 2014

Electoral Registration Letters - a comedy of errors?

During August, Sunderland City Council sent out the following letter to some of the people in the city:-

Dear X,
The way you register to vote is changing. I’m writing to let you  know that you have been automatically re-registered under the new system.
You don’t need to do anything else, but if you have any queries about your registration, you can contact us using the details above. You won’t need to register again unless your entitlement to be registered changes…

Using information received from the public, registration officers keep two registers – the electoral register and the open register (also known as the edited register).

The open register is an extract of the electoral register, but is not used for elections. It can be bought by any person, company  or organisation. For example, it is used by businesses and charities to confirm name and address details. Your name and address will be included in the open register unless you ask for them to be removed. Removing your details from the open register does not affect your right to vote.

From this letter, it can be seen that, as statutorily required, Sunderland Council keeps 2 versions of the electoral register and people who don’t want to be deluged with junk mail can remove their names from public view. Many people, including some of my LibDem colleagues, have chosen privacy for many years.

So why did they have to read, in the bottom part of the letter, the following:-

Your details are on the open register, as set out above. To be removed from this register, call XXXX (you will require the security code printed at the bottom of this letter).

There seems to have been a major failure of administration, which has released details of some people into the public realm, so that they had to contact the registration officers and once more have their names removed from the register!

This error happened in Newcastle, resulting in a £50,000 reprinting of their letters of notification; in the Chronicle, it stated that, “The council wrote to all electors in the city on July 18 to inform them of changes in how they register to vote. However, it contained a blunder in the section of the letter which stated whether or not they were on the open register. Electors who were not on it were incorrectly informed that they were, and those who were, told they were not. The error was confined to the wording of the letter, and the register is correct.

I wrote to Sunderland Council, making a FOI request:-  

The Electoral Registration department of Sunderland City Council recently sent out letters to voters, informing them of a new voter registration system. However, they contained a line suggesting that people who had opted out of junk mail were told that they had signed up to receive such post. I believe this to be in error.

Could you clarify this please? Have you mistakenly sent this letter to excluded persons?

They responded, “No.”

Will you have to resend mail to voters, if this is the case. 

“Not applicable.”

How much would this cost to rectify, if it is necessary? Newcastle Council recently made such an error and had to spend £50,000 to send the correct letter out. 

“Not applicable.”

Well folks, here’s a picture of the letter sent to a friend who was not on the open register before now, and had to spend a considerable time correcting the apparent error that the council denies exists! 

Also, here’s the letter he got when he finally corrected the mistake.

So much for confidence in the system!

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