Must the next electoral canvass be done by 2023?

CLAIM: The next electoral canvass in Northern Ireland must be completed before 2023, ten years after the 2013 canvass.

CONCLUSION: INACCURATE WITH CONSIDERATION. Legislation lists the years in which a canvass must be completed. It is specific that a canvass is due in 2021, with the subsequent one in 2030 and then every following ten years unless the Act is amended. An ad hoc canvass in intervening years does not reset the need for these end of decade canvasses.

In his Irish News column on Thursday 20 February, Newton Emerson claimed that the frequency of electoral register canvasses “is set in legislation at once every ten years”. He reasoned that since the last canvass occurred in 2013 …

“A canvass was planned last year [2020] until Covid intervened. Next year [2022] clashes with the election and the following year [2023] misses the deadline, so that leaves this year.”

The logic is compelling, but not correct.

2023 does miss the deadline. But so does 2022. In fact, the current legislation very precisely specifies that there will be a canvass in 2021 … unless Parliament amends the Act.

The Representation of the People Act 1983 mandates a canvass at the end of every decade (2010, 2020, 2030) rather than “once every ten years”. These years are baked into the legislation.

The 2010 canvass was avoided because (unlike other specified years) the Secretary of State was able to issue an order that it was not deemed necessary. This opt out is not available for other defined canvass years.

The canvass in 2013 did not reset the next deadline in the legislation to 2023. Instead, the legislation still specified that a canvass must be conducted in 2020, until it was amended under Coronavirus legislation to extend the deadline until 2021. After 2021, the next mandatory canvass is 2030, even if there is a further canvass in intervening years.

You can find out more about the electoral register and the planned 2021 canvass in FactCheckNI’s explainer article.