Electoral Registers in Wales
What are Electoral Registers?
Electoral registers are lists of those eligible to vote in parliamentary and local government elections. They were first compiled under the 1832 Representation of the People Act, and have been produced annually since then (except 1916-1917 and 1940-1944).
The registers are most frequently used to:
- Discover who lived at an address and for how many years they lived there
- Find out the number of people in a household who were eligible to vote
- Locate missing individuals
What do they contain?
Before 1918, the registers list the names of electors in alphabetical order, with their residential address and details of the qualification that entitled them to vote (typically the type of property they owned or rented).
From 1918, the standard arrangement became to compile registers by street within each constituency and polling district. This arrangement makes it more difficult to find an individual or family if you don't already have some idea about the area where they might have lived.
Who could vote and when?
Today, almost all men and women of 18 years old or over can vote, but it is important to remember that this has not always been the case. Women were excluded from voting in parliamentary elections until 1918, and whilst men over 21 were allowed to vote from as early as 1429, they had to own land or property to be eligible, and this property qualification remained until the early 20th century. It was only in 1928 that most people over 21 finally won the right to vote.
Franchise reform began in 1832 with the first in a series of Acts of Parliament:
- Representation of the People Act, 1832 Enfranchised men over the age of 21 who owned property worth at least £2 a year, generally middle-class males.
- Representation of the People Act, 1867 Expanded the vote to men owning or renting property worth at least £5 per year, which included skilled workers and craftsmen, and some tenant farmers.
- Representation of the People Act, 1884 Extended the right to vote to include men who owned, rented or lodged in property worth at least £10 a year; this enfranchised rural labourers.
By the beginning of the 20th century, about 60% of the adult male population was eligible to vote in parliamentary elections, but women were still excluded. However, this was about to change:
- Representation of the People Act, 1918 This Act allowed a far greater percentage of the population to vote. It permitted men over 21 who had resided in a constituency for more than 6 months to vote, thus extending the vote to the majority of males. Women aged 30 could vote, but only if they were householders or married to a householder.
- Equal Franchise Act, 1928 Allowed women the same voting rights as men. All men and women over 21 were able to vote.
- Representation of the People Act, 1969 Lowered the legal voting age from 21 to 18 (although the changes do not appear until the 1971 registers).
So, remember that registers of electors only contain the names of those eligible to vote at any particular time. Also bear in mind that whilst somebody might have been entitled to vote, they may not have actually registered and consequently would not appear in the lists of voters.
Although the percentage of the population that was eligible to vote grew throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, there were certain groups and individuals who remained unable to vote, and as such do not appear in electoral registers. They include:
- Peers of the Realm
- Aliens, unless they had become British citizens
- Anyone serving a prison sentence
- "Idiots and lunatics"
- Conscientious objectors (1918-1923)
- Policemen, until 1887
- Postmasters, until 1918
People who were not in their constituency at the time of an election are known as "Absent Voters"; the largest such group were members of the armed services. Lists of Absent Voters were produced for some constituencies during the First World War, but none are held in the Record Office. Between 1945 and 1948, service registers were produced alongside those for civilians.
The year given on an electoral register relates to the year in which it came into force, whereas the qualifying date for inclusion in the register was usually in the previous year. For genealogists, the qualifying date is the most important as it establishes ownership, occupancy, or residence at a particular address on or before that date. Many voters may have died or moved on by the time the register came into force.
The table below gives details of the main changes to qualifying dates and the date registers came into force:
|From||Qualifying date||Date coming into force|
|1832||31 July||1 December|
|1843||31 July||30 November|
|1867||31 July||1 January|
|1878||15 July||1 January|
|1885||31 July||1 January|
|1918||15 January & 15 July||15 April & 15 October|
|1926||15 July||15 October|
|1928||1 December||1 May 1929|
|1929||1 June||15 October|
|1948||20 November & 15 June||16 March & 1 October|
|1949||20 November||16 March|
|1953||10 October||16 February|
Poll books were produced to show publicly the votes cast in parliamentary elections. They contain lists of voters in a given election, usually accompanied by details of their residence and occupation. They can also indicate for which candidate they voted. However, they only include those who actually used their vote, rather than all those eligible.
© Glamorgan Record Office, Cardiff, Wales.