Testing the Young Voter Registration Form for the 2014 Referendum on Scottish Independence

This report presents the findings of the testing of the understanding and usability of a draft Young Voter Registration Form which is intended to be used to register 15-year-olds who will be 16 by the date of the referendum, to allow them to vote in the 2014 referendum on Scottish Independence.


4.1 As the changes made between version 1 and version 2 of the YVF were relatively minor, the findings presented in this chapter relate to both versions of the form unless otherwise stated. A discussion of the changes and an assessment of these changes has been included in section 4.10 - 4.15.

Main findings

4.2 The findings from the testing show that the YVF works well.

4.3 Throughout the testing, the annual canvass form was placed on top of the YVF and the two forms were then folded into an envelope and given to participants to complete. Participants tended to fill out the annual canvass form immediately without checking the back page of instructions or the YVF. Despite this, no one failed to notice the YVF.

4.4 The instructions provided at the front of the YVF were felt to be "clear" and "easy to understand" and, from reading these, participants were generally able to understand the purpose of the form. In many cases, participants were able to quickly establish whether the YVF was relevant to them simply from the instruction placed in a shaded box towards the middle of the page.

4.5 Those who had 15 year olds experienced little difficulty in working out whether their child would be 16 by the dummy referendum date (and should therefore be included on the YVF).

4.6 Participants from eligible households were generally positive about the layout of the YVF and found it easy to complete. These findings may in part be attributed to the similarities between the YVF and the annual canvass form and the fact that most were familiar with the latter from past canvasses.

4.7 Participants did not have any concerns with providing information about young people. Some went on to say that they felt reassured by the information provided on the back page on how Electoral Registration Officers will be using young people's details.

4.8 In general, participants completed the YVF correctly or correctly left it blank. The few errors that did emerge (for example including a 16 year old on the YVF) could be dealt with by Electoral Registration Officers.

4.9 Above all, nobody failed to include an eligible 15 year old on the YVF[5].

Changes made between version 1 and version 2

4.10 The changes made to create version 2 of the YVF were based on the findings which emerged while testing version 1.

4.11 There was a view among participants that there was too much text in the instructions on the front page and too many repetitions of '15 year olds', '16' and '30th January 2014'. This deterred one participant from reading the instructions altogether and resulted in an error (see section 4.16). Some participants, those with English as a second language and with low literacy in particular, did not understand the word 'eligible'. In version 2, the instructions were amended so that there was less text and the word 'eligible' was avoided.

4.12 The instruction to turn overleaf for more information was not always noticed and this was highlighted in bold in version 2.

4.13 The name and nationality of the young person was sometimes entered in the heading box, rather than the row below. This was resolved in version 2 by re-aligning the heading text so that there was no space to do this.

4.14 There was not enough space for entering an email address so the box for this was extended in version 2.

4.15 These fairly minor amendments that were made to create version 2 appeared to work well among participants.

Errors made when completing the YVF

4.16 While in most cases participants filled out the YVF correctly or correctly left it blank, a small number of errors did emerge during the testing. We have noted the version of the form given to participants in the discussion below but this should not be taken to imply that the error would have been avoided if they were given the other version unless stated.

  • One participant in his twenties included himself on both the YVF and the annual canvass form (version 1 of YVF) - this participant had very limited reading skills which meant that he did not read any of the instructions provided on either form and went on to make other errors. It is not clear whether any amendments to the YVF could have helped him.
  • One participant included a 15 year on both the YVF and the annual canvass form (version 1 of YVF) - this participant added her eligible 15 year old daughter to the annual canvass form immediately after reading the start of the instructions on the YVF. She then went back to reading the rest of the instructions on the YVF and added her daughter to that form too.
  • One participant included a 16 year old on the YVF instead of the annual canvass form (version 1 of YVF) - this participant was put off from reading the instructions properly because of the amount of text and by the number of times the words '15 year olds', '16' and '30th January 2014' were repeated. Instead, she simply focused on the instruction '…who will be 16 by 30th January 2014' and went on to add her 16 year old son to the YVF only. This participant completed version 1 of the YVF and it may be that the amendments made to version 2 would have helped her.
  • one participant included a 16 year old on the YVF and the annual canvass form (version 2 of YVF) - As in the case above, this participant mainly focused on the instruction '…who will be 16 by the 30th January 2014' and decided to include her daughter, who had just turned 16, on the YVF "just in case". She commented that she was being "overly cautious" and felt that officials could easily work out that her daughter had been added to both forms.
  • two participants signed (and planned to return) blank YVFs (versions 1 and 2 of YVF) - a couple of participants from households containing ineligible children correctly left Part 1 of the YVF blank, failed to notice the instruction that if no one is entered no action is required and went on to sign Part 2 of the YVF "just in case".

4.17 In addition to these errors, block letters were not always used when completing the YVF. The testing suggests that whether people use block letters depends on whether they notice this instruction on the annual canvass form: all participants completed the annual canvass form first and sometimes missed the instruction on using block capitals. Then, because of the similarity between the two forms, completed the YVF in the same way.

4.18 Importantly, in most cases these errors could have been addressed by Electoral Registration Officers without the need to re-contact households for clarification. Moreover, none of the errors would have resulted in eligible young people not being registered to vote.

Other issues with the YVF

4.19 Beyond the main findings and errors discussed above, a number of further issues emerged in the testing.

Uncertainty as to who should complete the YVF

4.20 Once participants had established whether the YVF was relevant to their household, there was some uncertainty around whether participants themselves, or the eligible 15 year olds, should complete and sign the YVF.

4.21 Some had inferred that they themselves should complete the YVF on the basis that the YVF was addressed to them - i.e. 'To the occupier' - and from the instruction 'Please enter their details in Part 1…' (our emphasis). Others simply assumed that it should be the householder. Others said that they would have given the YVF to their eligible 15 year old to complete (one participant thought this might be part of an attempt by government to engage young people in the democratic process).

4.22 As with current practice for regular annual canvass forms, anyone in the household, including the young person themselves, could complete and sign the YVF. Even in the interviews where there was uncertainty, the YVFs were nonetheless completed, so we recommend keeping the YVF as it stands. Adding guidance to the effect that the YVF could be completed by anyone in the household might add further confusion or risk people assuming that the YVF should be completed even if there are no eligible 15 year olds.

Prioritising the instruction that households with no eligible 15 year olds do not need to return the YVF

4.23 Some participants from ineligible households suggested moving the instruction 'If there are no 15 year olds living at this address who will be 16 by 30 January 2014, you do not need to complete or return this form' to the top of the front page of the YVF.

4.24 Although this change will mean that this instruction will become obvious slightly quicker for the majority who will not be required to complete the YVF, the purpose of the YVF may become less immediately obvious for those who are required to complete it. The Electoral Commission recommends phrasing instructions in terms of what people should do, rather than what not to do[6]. On balance, therefore, we recommend keeping the instruction for householders with eligible 15 year olds at the top to ensure that the YVF works well for those who are required to fill it in.

Including date of birth to help with working out eligibility

4.25 The back page of the YVF gives the last day on which young people could have been born in order to be eligible. A couple of participants suggested that this could be included on the front page of the YVF for additional clarity.

4.26 Given that none of the participants had any difficulty in working out eligibility from the dummy referendum date, and given the preference for less text (see section 4.11), we do not recommend adding this to the front page.

The title of the YVF

4.27 A few participants felt that the title of the YVF - Young Voter Registration form for the Referendum on Scottish Independence - contained several long words and that it did not provide enough explanation as to who should be entered on the YVF. Still, we recommend keeping the title as it is for a variety of reasons: the existing title did not appear to impede understanding of the purpose of the form; alternatives such as 'Registration form for 15 year olds' may increase the risk of households including 15 year olds who will not be 16 by the referendum date; and it is not feasible for the title to convey all the relevant information.

The term 'mailshot'

4.28 Although the information provided on the back page of the YVF was generally felt to be clear, the word 'mailshot', used on the back page to explain how the electoral register may be used by certain organisations, was not always understood by participants. We recommend changing this to 'information'.

Whether views on lowering the voting age affected completion

4.29 While views on extending the voting franchise were outwith the scope of the study, the testing found no evidence to suggest that objections to lowering the voting age resulted in eligible 15 year olds not being registered. That said, this finding is based on a very small number of participants who had such objections and also had an eligible 15 year old in their household.

Findings in relation to the annual canvass form

4.30 While the testing primarily focused on the YVF, there were some findings which emerged in relation to the annual canvass form.

4.31 In the main, participants were familiar with the annual canvass form and were aware that it should be used to register adult householders aged 18 years and older. In all but one case (see section 4.16), 16 year olds were also correctly entered on the annual canvass form: some were aware of the fact that 16 year olds can be registered; some simply thought that the voting age was 16 (this may have resulted from media coverage on extending the vote to 16 and 17 years olds for the referendum); and others were prompted by the column in the table in Part 1 that states '16/17 YEAR OLDS ONLY'. In a couple of cases, participants only became aware that they had to register their 16 year old on the annual canvass form from reading the instructions provided on the front page of the YVF.

4.32 There were a small number of cases where participants missed out eligible adult household members aged 18 years or older. In one case, this seemed to be a result of the testing context as the participant was quite focused on the fact that she had been recruited because of her child's age. In another interview, with a participant who used English as a second language, the participant was more familiar with individual voter registration forms used in her country of birth.

4.33 Other errors made included failing to use block letters, and entering dates of birth of all household members, despite the fact that this is only required for those aged 16 and 17.


4.34 The testing found that the YVF worked well from the outset:

  • participants understood what the YVF was for
  • those with eligible 15 year olds were able to complete the YVF accurately and with ease
  • those in ineligible households correctly left the YVF blank
  • the amendments that were made to the YVF during the testing appeared to work well.

4.35 Nobody failed to register an eligible 15 year old. In all but one case where errors were made, participants provided enough information to enable Electoral Registration Officers to deal with the errors without needing to re-contact the households.

4.36 As a result of these findings, we recommend keeping version 2 of the YVF largely as it stands. The only amendment we recommend is changing the word 'mailshot' to 'information'.


Email: Wendy Van Rijswijk

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