Local Authorities are responsible for running elections in their area. Part of this process involves creating a list of all eligible voters who have registered to vote within each Local Authority area. This list is called the Register of Electors or Electoral Register but is more commonly referred to as the Voters Roll.
The Electoral Register is compiled by the Electoral Registration Officer and is maintained on an annual basis. Once compiled the Register allows the Electoral Registration Officer to send out Polling Cards prior to Polling Day as well as provide lists of eligible voters to Polling Stations at each election or referendum.
The candidates you vote for in a particular election will depend on the ward or constituency you are registered in but you do not need to attend a Polling Station to make your vote. You can vote by post or have someone else vote on your behalf if you are unable.
Using information received from the public, Electoral Registration Officers keep two registers – the Electoral Register and the Open Register (previously known as the Edited Register).
The Electoral Register lists the names and addresses of everyone who is registered to vote in public elections. The register is used for electoral purposes – such as making sure only eligible people can vote – and for other limited purposes specified in law.
All personal data in each register must always be processed in line with data-protection legislation.
The use of the Electoral Register is heavily restricted by Statutory Regulations. It can only be provided to, or used by, authorised persons including:-
- Election staff, political parties, candidates and holders of elected office use the register for electoral purposes.
- Your local council and the British Library hold copies that anyone may look at under supervision. A copy is also held by the Electoral Commission, the Boundary Commissions (which set constituency boundaries for most elections) and the Office for National Statistics.
- The council can use the register for duties relating to security, enforcing the law and preventing crime. The police and the security services can also use it for law enforcement.
- The register is used when calling people for jury service.
- Government departments may buy the register from local registration officers and use it to help prevent and detect crime. They can also use it to safeguard national security by checking the background of job applicants and employees.
- Credit reference agencies can buy the register. They help other organisations to check the names and addresses of people applying for credit. They also use it to carry out identity checks when trying to prevent and detect money laundering.
It is a criminal offence for anyone to supply or use the register for anything else.
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 would not affect your right to vote.
Users of the Open Register may include:
- businesses checking the identity and address details of people who apply for their services such as insurance, goods hire and property rental, as well as when they shop online
- businesses selling age-restricted goods or services, such as alcohol and gambling online, to meet the rules on verifying the age of their customers
- charities and voluntary agencies, for example to help maintain contact information for those who have chosen to donate bone marrow and to help people separated by adoption to find each other
- charities, to help with fundraising and contacting people who have made donations
- debt-collection agencies when tracing people who have changed address without telling their creditors
- Direct-marketing firms when maintaining their mailing lists
- landlords and letting agents when checking the identity of potential tenants
- local councils when identifying and contacting residents
- online directory firms to help users of the websites find people, such as when reuniting friends and families
- organisations tracing and identifying beneficiaries of wills, pensions and insurance policies
- private-sector firms to verify details of job applicants.
As noted above, the law allows anyone to buy a copy of the Open Register (previously known as the Edited Register) for a prescribed fee. This register has been in place since 2002 – prior to that date the full Electoral Register could be sold to anyone for a fee. Since 2002 electors have had to make a choice about whether to opt out of the Edited Register. All households are sent a canvass form every year listing everyone who was registered to vote. Each person on the form may choose to tick a box on the form indicating that they want to be opted out of the Edited Register. Your will continue until you tell us that you wish to change it (unless you change address – then you would have to make a fresh registration application and Open Register choice).
In Tayside we have only very rarely sold copies of the Open (Edited Register). Any that have been sold have been small sections of the register requested by local community groups for community buy out purposes etc. We are not aware of any purchases by marketing companies. Although details of the availability of the Open Register are provided on our website (as we are required to do by law) we do not actively market this register.