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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

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I am aware of the production of Absent Voters Lists as a result of the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1918, and how important they can be for research into service people of that time.  I am also aware that it enfranchised all men (but not women) over the age of 21, and included men over 18 (in practise over 19) who were serving in a theatre of war or at sea.


I am familiar with the 1918 City of York AVL which includes the service details of 9,122 service men and women.


However, when considering entries for individuals, it is apparent that there are some puzzling aspect to the entries.  Some men are recorded against more than one address with quite different details against each.  I am aware that this could relate to owning more than one property, but why different details?  In a few instances, there is no detail at all against a man's entry.  Who supplied the information?  How was the list assembled?   


Some time ago, I did read of some C.O.s handing out application forms and insisting on men applying for the vote, while other C.O.s took no interest.


From what I have seen, it appears that some applications have been made by the men or women themselves, while others may have been made by relatives at the home address.


Can anybody throw some light on how an application was made for an Absent Vote and how the associated lists were produced?  Reading the Act (a lengthy task) does not indicate how the process was to be carried out. 


I have looked in vain for any publication which covers this topic, but would very much welcome information regarding such a source.


Regards to all



Edited by Haywired
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Absent Voters Lists have been an enduring favourite on GWF.  And they vary considerably.  My comments are based on the 6000 names for the Bororough of Ilford, which is held by Redbridge Local Stuides. It is unusual as it goes far beyond the usual NM entries that are found,say, on the Essex registers for 1918- Ilford has a completely separate appendix just of absent service votes. Some things come across strongly:


1) "Service" votes is a very wide concept- people on war work under direction but not in uniform are included.

2) It is clear that a lot had been done by doorstepping round the streets- this shows up as other family members were usually well behind in the information they gave- eg wrong ship, old ranks, etc. But it is clear that information gained on the doorstep was an important element.

3) Many men have their full service numbers as well- which I suspect are the full forms going back to the local town hall.  It is fairly obvious that the electoral registration system was used in 1915-1917 as the basis for working out conscription and that town halls kept fairly accurate records of who was liable and who was called, backed up by the doorstepping.

   What is most striking is just how many men, some of considerable age, are included- most certainly not just straight naval and military

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I agree that AVLs are an absolute treasure trove, as by and large they are the only database that links men to their service numbers and to their addresses.

I don't know the exact procedure for collecting data, but have heard that cards were issued to men on active service, and also issued to home addresses.

Yes, I have come across duplicate entries, but haven't researched why.

Yes there are several men with no details at all.

One interesting fact though is that my area of interest, Anglesey, has AVLs for Spring 1918, Spring 1919, Autumn 1919, Spring 1920, Autumn 1920, and a final AVL in Spring 1922, and the quality of data documented improves dtamatically over the first three issues. The data is cleaner, lots of errors removed, and also, far fewer blank men.


Although men in military Service were marked in the ordinary Electoral Registers as Naval (N) or Military (M), the AVLs are a step up from them.

Why is this? It  begs the question, Did the government, during the dark days of Spring 1918 really anticipate a Victory General Election later that year?

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As ever Chris has set down the procedure for the registration of military voters under the Representation of the People Act 1918 on the LLT




However, dual registration remained a problem, especially in the early days as the military voter was registered at their home address when the roll was being compiled.  Given the numbers, time and bureaucracy, together with probable shortage or inexperience of staff  and local differences it does not seem surprising there are mistakes and anomalies in the lists.  As Chris notes that does not diminish their value to contemporary researchers.

The forms required  under the the Act (all twelve pages of them) were published in the LG on 15 March 1918


The householder was required to complete details of military and naval voters (p.3310)


There was a rather grumpy letter from "T. Atkins" in the People on June 2nd complaining about the 10 page ACI and six Appendices which were the instructions accompanying the form stating the amount of work involved would 'increase the unpopularity of politics in the Army' and soldiers were more interested in the rum ration rather than yet another form.


Separate arrangements for the Navy were undertaken by the Admiralty







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Thank you for your replies and a considerable amount of useful information and guidance.  In passing, I'm always surprised at how little mention there is of AVLs when discussing research into First World War servicepeople (and others).  Even more unusual is the fact that it effectively entitled any male serviceman, whatever their age, but serving in a theatre of war, to the vote.  Very few people are aware that this would include anybody over the age of 19.  Did this still apply after the Armistice?  Did this also apply during the Second World War?


Kenf48:  I had previously seen Chris's piece on LLT regarding AVLs.  I told him some time ago about the City of York AVLs which are mentioned on his list.  However, I had not noticed the link to registration of individuals which is near the end of the article.  I have now read that, but it does still leave me with questions as to the sequence of the registration process.


As I understand it, servicepeople were given a card on which to fill in their details, including the home address which entitled them to the vote.  The C.O. of the individual's unit would then send these cards off to the Voter Registration Officer for the appropriate Constituency (that alone would be a pretty big task, especially while the war was still in progress).

However, back in the U.K., heads of households were also being asked to list people who were entitled to a vote for that address, including absent voters with their military details.

I presume that the poor old Registration Officer then had to attempt to marry up the details of these two different and massive sets of data.  If he found instances where no marriage was possible, which data did he regard as the more likely to be true?  No wonder there were men listed under different addresses with quite different service numbers/units/etc.  What came first - the serviceperson's data or the householder's data?  I've come across a number of these issues in the York AVL. 


Finally, has anybody ever published anything about this administrative nightmare?


Regards to all.

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