On Tuesday February 20, political participation NGO Bite the Ballot unveiled a bold plan for data sharing between the public and private sector, towards demographically and geographically targeted voter registration campaigns.
Convening at the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Democratic Participation, Bite the Ballot brought together the Electoral Commission, the Association of Electoral Administrators, the Cabinet Office, and consumer credit reporting agency Experian. The deal would see Experian, who already collect voter registration data from local councils for credit analysis purposes, reference this with other data: such as from utilities, financial services, and Royal Mail, to provide local governments with comprehensive data on voter registration.
Instead of just targeting everyone for registration in the run-up to an election, or a vague group like young voters, local authorities would be able to see if certain religious, ethnic, or age groups had high rates of non-registration, and be able to direct efforts toward registration accordingly. They could even target voter registration on a street by street basis, identifying the specific areas where enrolment was low. At present, local and national government have few tools to accurately analyse voter registration.
An agreement appears imminent, with both the Electoral Commission and Experian representatives expecting a deal to be signed in the coming months. A Commission representative said it was just down to making it through the ‘boring legal stage’, before signing an agreement. Despite the chasm in analytical capabilities between the public and private revealed at the meeting, Experian do not appear to be using their position for financial gain. A representative stated: ‘we haven’t talked about a paid contract, we want to be involved in social engagement’.
The impending deal represents another major victory for Bite the Ballot, and CEO and co-founder Mike Sani. The organisation’s ‘Voter Registration’ day in 2015 saw over 440,000 voters register in a single week of February, and they made significant contributions to a registration push prior to the EU referendum. Mr. Sani said at the meeting that he hoped the agreement would help empower historically under-represented groups.
Though unlikely, the agreement may just be put into practice in time for the UK local elections in May.