Authentically registering to vote

You know when something happens and you find almost every single aspect of it incredibly frustrating? I had that this weekend with almost everybody involved in the voter registration process.

Let’s start at the start.

  • EU elections are coming up (somewhat unexpectedly).
  • More than perhaps prior elections, these may be quite deeply political in their own right rather than being read as a protest vote against the government of the day.
  • Not enough people who can vote in these elections do vote, and sometimes that is a pipeline problem of them not being registered to vote.
  • Registering to vote unless you are UK, Irish or Commonwealth citizen is a faff. You need to declare, using a bit of paper, whether you are voting in your home country or your country of residence. There are easy ways to do this, but the UK hasn’t.

On the other hand.

I am also surprised and dumbfounded that the register to vote process hasn’t been designed for these issues. I am surprised that after almost seven years, there have not been significant improvements to the process of registering. I am surprised that the obvious flaws in local government managing registration have not been addressed. I am surprised that parts of the process still have no online component and rely on paper. I am surprised that the code is now closed source and hidden so that the trust of the community in the quality of the code and the ability for oversight is hidden (

What next?


Design the process of registering to vote and voting to be centred around the user. This may involve changing primary legislation. At the very least, it could include a no-paper-unless-you-need-paper approach. The user need is for a seamless process that doesn’t break when you have the temerity to be an edge case. This is not optional. The user need underlying everything we do is “because democracy”.

People who made these sites

My suggestions

  • Test before publishing. Test with users. Test with civil servants receiving your forms.
  • Use this as a way of applying pressure for a system that meets users’ needs, because I’m not sure that a market in voter registration technology is actually what we need. Political power is a thing that is not subverted by a hack day project. Real change takes political pressure.

Public sector specialist. Anthropologist on the internet.