Friday, 7 October 2011

Missing from the electoral roll? Did the Town Hall “lose” the form you never really sent?

I am getting exasperated! I have been acting for a number of residents in St Helier No.1 District who “swear blind” as the expression goes, that they filled in their voter registration form and returned it to the Town Hall in person, yet are not currently registered to vote. If the Town Hall says they did not receive one’s voter registration form what does one do?

The answer is not very much. How can one prove that a form was delivered? I am not talking here about something lost in the post. This is hand delivered and passed across the counter to the clerk. The answer remains, not very much.

I have a personal anecdote from my own canvassing back in June of this year when I visited a housing estate and received a very sympathetic hearing from one man who said that both he and his daughters would be completing their pink coloured voter registration form (i.e. the one sent by the Parish to the occupier of each unit of accommodation) that very night, with a view to voting in October. When I checked the register of voters in late August I noted that this gentleman and his daughters were not registered. I found it so odd, especially as I had such positive indications from the man that he would be registering, that I went back his home. I arrived just as he was pulling up into the drive in his van. I questioned him and he confirmed that he had indeed filled the form in, got the daughters to sign and returned it to the Town Hall in person himself the following day or at least a few days later.

I told him he was not registered and naturally he was perplexed. I told him not to get furious but to complete a new form, get the daughters to sign it and that I would return it to the Town Hall for processing. That is precisely what happened and he and his daughters are registered to vote.

I also have several examples of cases where forms I submitted on behalf of those registered as part of general voter registration drives were simply not processed. Fortunately, I had retained photocopies as evidence. These copies were then duly processed.

So what is the lesson to be learnt? There must be a fundamental review of the process by which parishes register individuals to vote. If they cannot do the job efficiently then the States must centralise the process and appoint an island wide electoral registrar with adequate resources. That organ could then run democracy awareness programmes amongst islanders, including the mass registration of 16 year olds at school.

In St Helier No.1 District there are around 5000 registered to vote. I know from canvassing that at least a further 20% to 30% are not registered. This means between one or two thousand people are missing from the electoral roll. Working class housing estates, especially social housing, suffer most. Some households may well be ineligible, not having the requisite two years residence, but my experience indicates these are few. Examples would be those occupying premises under “J” category licences. The majority are working class people for whom politics and politicians is a matter of indifference or total exasperation. The latter category is by far the largest.

I spoke to the Portuguese lady who runs a nearby newsagents and she just exploded when I mentioned voting in elections in Jersey. Having been in the island for 36 years she was angry beyond discussion. I did not get a chance to ask her if she was registered to vote as she had no intention of legitimising by her vote something she considered a cesspit of excrement. The indifference of government and long unmet needs of the working class leads to disaffection.

No one takes seriously the high levels of voter abstention in the island and the implications this has for the legitimacy of governments and democracy generally. The decrepit and ancient methods must be reformed root and branch. It must be a priority for the immediate post election period. It might be my first Proposition to the States!


  1. The first and simplest answer: demand a receipt.

    The second answer: redesign the voter registration form to include a small tear-off receipt. All it needs is a suitable date stamp on it to prove receipt of the form. Cost: negligible. Benefit: enormous.

    There is simply no adequate reason to refuse this. If the job of registering is being done properly, this provides assurance both that people are not being deliberately excluded from registers and that the staff at parish halls are competent in dealing with enquiries. A refusal would open up parish hall staff (Constables included) to both accusations.

  2. Nick, what you are describing may be common. Failing to receive a voting card, I phoned POSH and was told that no completed registration form had been received from me. I could register but not in time to vote in this election. After I was confident enough to insist that a completed form had been delivered to the Parish months previously, the official found the form which had not been processed and I am able to vote but will not be on the printed register.

  3. Keith,

    Well, what you describe is indeed rather too common and is generally unacceptable. I tried to get a woman on who "swears blind" she did the pink voter registration form and posted it back. She remembered the colour of the form which substantiates her claim to have completed the form. As the Town Hall could not find her form the Judicial Greffe refused my appliction on her behalf to be put on.

    You are indeed lucky to be voting, but none of this should be necessary if adequate resources were put in to ensuring people do get registered accurately. This is something for soon after the elections and not left for another three years when the same problems arise. Slowly Jersey modernizes, but too slowly.

    I hope you will consider me for a vote on the 19th October.

  4. Nick, here is my own experience (100% true).
    Part 1- I moved from St Helier 2 back to St Helier 1 a year ago. This summer I received an electoral registration through the post from the parish so I completed it promptly and returned it, making sure to post it personally in the Town Hall letter box. I therefore presumed I was registered to vote in St Helier 1. However, in the last few weeks I discovered that in fact I was still registered at my OLD ADDRESS in St Helier 2. It would seem my registration form had not been processed. A polling card confirming this was then sent to my old address. Had I not been registered at all, I would obviously have complained to the parish, but I decided that I would just vote in St Helier 2 instead, where I am still apparently legally entitled to vote....

  5. Part 2 - Yesterday I voted at St Paul's Centre. It was only when I got to the booth and examined the ballot paper for deputies that I realised I had been given a St Helier 1 paper. I therefore voted for you (hooray!) and decided not to go back and query why I had been given the St Helier 1 paper when the most recent September register states that I am a voter in my old district of St Helier 2. I am guessing that either it was a mistake by the person who gave me my ballot paper or possibly the registration information on his computer screen had been updated (finally) to account for my new address in St Helier 1. However, that raises the question of whether they can legally alter registration details like this after the September cut-off date, especially as I never complained. Maybe they only found and processed my form after the September cut-off date and went ahead and made an amendment? It is a total mystery but at least I got to vote in St Helier 1 after all. :-)

  6. Anon - Part 1 and 2

    Thanks for the vote; it is much appreciated.

    A curious story indeed! If you wanted to query the matter we could speak to the Town Hall administration and trace the history of your registration. It is all on their computer system and they will have your voter registration form(s).

    I cannot really offer an explanation. Clearly it is worthy of investigation to see how such an anomaly arose. If you want to take it further then contact me on my email: