Referendum voter registration deadline extended after online failure
Users will have until June 9 to register online for this month’s vote after “unprecedented demand” temporarily brought down service ahead of deadline
Voters will be able to register online for the upcoming EU referendum vote later this month for an additional 48 hours after the government passed emergency legislation to account for a failure to handle demand through its digital service.
The Cabinet Office said it would now be possible to vote online until midnight on June 9 after technical issues resulting from "unprecedented demand" with its voter registration service last night prevented an undisclosed number of individuals from using the system hours before the deadline closed to participate in the EU referendum.
According to the independent Electoral Commission, which earlier today requested the government look at ways to extend the deadline, emergency legislation would now be introduced to allow voter registration to continue until Thursday night.
Commission director of communications Alex Robertson said that it was vital that problems with the government's registration website did not stop people from being able to vote.
"We said this morning that legislation should be introduced to extend the registration deadline and we're pleased the government will now be making this change," he said.
"We are urging everyone who is not already registered to vote to take this last chance to do so before the end of Thursday."
Although it is understood that more than 500,000 people did successfully register to vote on Tuesday (June 7), pressure had mounted throughout the day for the government to extend a registration deadline for the online service in order to grant more time for those wishing to take part in the vote on June 23.
Speaking after an urgent question in parliament today over the technical difficulties with the system, Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock urged those unable to register to vote online yesterday to continue trying. He argued it was "highly likely" that legislation would then be enacted to ensure legitimate voters are included in the final registry even after the deadline is passed.
"It is incumbent on all of us to get out there and say that people should register now. We will come forward, should we chose to, with legislation - and I think you can gather it's highly likely - that will set out the deadline," said the minister.
"But what matters right now is that people should get on the website, which is currently working, and register to vote. Let that message go out loud and clear."
Hancock urged unregistered voters to submit their details online as soon as possible to ensure the Electoral Commission has enough time to validate voter lists before the vote, arguing that measures would be taken to try and cope with an increased number of users.
"We're putting in place measures to ensure the system has yet more capacity in case there is further interest, because of the news around this potential extension which we want to see and the Election Commission want to see," he said.
However, the government found itself coming under criticism from opposition parties in parliament over its handling of voter registry online.
Labour MP Chi Onwurah, shadow minister for culture and the digital economy, asked the minister to commit to publishing a detailed report to parliament on why a "scalable technology" used to support voter registration was not able to meet demand.
"I want to ask him about the agile technologies, which form the basis for online registration and that were chosen for their very scalability when properly implemented and resourced," she said.
"These are the same technologies that form the basis for other digital services such as Universal Credit and Driver and the Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), which might also be subjected to unprecedented but entirely predictable surges. Will he commit to lay before the house a detailed report on to why a scalable technology was not able to deal with a predictable surge in demand?"
Hancock said he would be looking at the question in the upcoming 'lessons learned' exercise around voter registration.
The exact numbers of those affected by technical difficulties last night are unknown, but the government accepted that voters had experienced difficulties with the online system at a time of strong demand.
"Some people did manage to get through and their applications were processed. We tried to resolve the situation as quickly as was possible and to resolve cases where people tried to register but were not able to," said a spokesperson for the Cabinet Office.
In addressing the technical issues with the registration service, the Electoral Commission said a significant increase in applications towards the midnight deadline yesterday saw over an hour of service disruptions.
"Issues with the government website arose around 10:15pm and were not resolved until after the registration deadline at midnight," said the commission in a statement.
Based on the government's own performance data, June 7 was by far the busiest day for online voter registration since the service's launch with an estimated 515,000 signing up through the system.
However, the same figures found that just an hour before the deadline at midnight, uptime had fallen to 0%.
Labour MP Louise Haigh, the shadow minister for civil service and digital reform was among a number of politicians and campaigners to raise concerns over yesterday's service disruption, urging for authorities to allow another 24 hours to register.
"Unacceptable some then denied voice [because] of website crash. Must extend deadline," she said on social media, claiming that it is the preference of young people to register late online.
Ahead of today's Prime Minister's Questions, David Cameron accepted that "huge demand" had overloaded the system.
He noted at the time that "urgent discussions" with the Electoral Commission were underway in order try to ensure people who register can vote."