Case study: Electoral Commission bolsters voter registrations by one million

A holistic communications campaign helped the Electoral Commission add almost a million voters to the register for the snap General Election in June, according to its latest evaluation.

An image used in the Electoral Commission's voter registration campaign, aimed at armed forces personnel
An image used in the Electoral Commission's voter registration campaign, aimed at armed forces personnel
Under-registered groups were the target for the Electoral Commission ahead of this year's general election, after Prime Minister Theresa May called for the vote on 18 April.

The aim of the campaign was to encourage 18 to 34-year-olds, students, recent home movers, people living abroad and armed forces personnel to register to vote online by the deadline on 22 May, or for postal vote applications by the following day.

With just five weeks to achieve uplift in voter sign-ups from under-registered groups, the Electoral Commission had a target of adding 601,500 people to the register in Great Britain and 4,600 in Northern Ireland. 

The Electoral Commission's director of communications, Craig Westwood, explained: "The timescales involved in a snap general election meant that we had to move quickly to develop and launch our register to vote campaign."

The Electoral Commission avoided this by launching its campaign after the local elections, with the multi-pronged strategy kicking off on 8 May, with just two weeks until the deadline for registrations.

The exception was activity aimed at UK citizens living overseas, which ran from 28 April, as they were not eligible to vote in the local elections.

A key plank of the campaign was social media activity, and the Electoral Commission used animated GIFs for the first time to build awareness of the need to act fast or risk missing out on voting.

Partnerships with Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and hyper-local site Nextdoor were a chance to highlight the campaign and the Electoral Commission harnessed the social media channels used by the Ministry of Defence and Foreign and Commonwealth Office to reach overseas voters and the armed forces.

Interviews with Electoral Commission staff on local and regional radio stressed the immediacy of the need to register, which generated extensive PR coverage one week before the registration deadline, as well as on polling day itself.

The snap nature of the General Election also widened its appeal, with publications that might not traditionally run information about voter registration, such as Marie Claire and Good Housekeeping, reaching out to a broader audience.

The Electoral Commission was also able to use its partnership with Snapchat to generate news coverage, as this was the first time that this had run for a UK-wide poll and included a lens and filter with a voter registration reminder put on photos posted on the social media site.

Westwood added: "We built on our insights about what works to motivate voters, garnered from recent campaigns, with effective targeting ensuring the best use of resources. Social media partnerships enabled us to reach audiences at scale, while our work with other valued partners such as local authorities and charities helped to communicate with their communities."

The Electoral Commission General Election Campaign Evaluation Report, released on 14 September, explained how paid advertising, including re-worked TV ad and radio spots aimed at students and home movers, were used as part of its multi-layered campaign.

Its approach enabled the Electoral Commission to beat its targets for generating extra voter registrations, with 958,000 recorded in Great Britain and 12,800 in Northern Ireland.

"The positive results are great to see and will inform the development of our voter registration campaign for the local elections in May 2018," added Westwood.

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