The new Elections Bill is ambitious. We are confident in the expertise within local authorities to implement new measures – but would stress that those tasked with administering successful elections do not have limitless capacity.
Electoral legislation in the UK is convoluted and piecemeal. Its foundations are over a century old, and there are already over 75 pieces of primary legislation linked to running elections. Rather than bolting more law onto an already creaking system, we encourage the Government to roll this Bill into a wider review, bringing all aspects of electoral law under one single Act.
We would also urge the UK Government to consider the resilience and capacity of the existing framework. We do not believe the foundations each election day is built upon can sustain much more.
Whichever approach is taken, we intend to work closely with the UK Government, Electoral Commission and wider sector to assess the measures in this Bill. We will work constructively to identify issues and suggest solutions to avert unintended consequences.
Careful consideration is crucial to make sure voter ID is deliverable and does not lead to disenfranchisement, particularly for voters from already underrepresented groups.
Voter ID must not negatively impact on people who wish to vote, and must avoid unnecessarily adding to election bureaucracy, costs and risk. Sufficient lead-in time for legislation, administrative planning, delivery, and voter education is vital to ensure any scheme is successful.
In the absence of national provision, the responsibility for producing the proposed free local voter card must be carefully considered as Returning and Electoral Registration Officers are already stretched to their limits in pre-election periods. It is also crucial that full national funding is available, with no additional cost burden pushed onto councils.
We have concerns about the planned introduction of these changes by the next UK Parliamentary general election, possibly May 2024. We believe the Gould Principle must apply – with changes introduced at least six months before a major electoral event.
Votes for overseas electors
We agree improvements are needed to electoral registration and voting processes for British expatriates and citizens living overseas and will be digesting the detail.
Three-year registration periods are welcome, but an expected initial peak of registrations must be carefully planned for and centrally resourced. A mechanism to supplement the current reliance on local authority data and encourage renewals will also be crucial.
Sufficient lead-in time for these changes is vital ahead of the next UK Parliamentary general election.
Voter education is also needed to inform overseas electors about different ways to cast their ballot. A reliance on postal votes has led to some electors being disenfranchised by the system at previous general elections, with insufficient time in the current election timetable to receive and return ballot papers.
We have been calling for campaigners to be prohibited from handling and/or assisting with the completion of postal ballot papers. We welcome measures to prevent this, and to limit the number of voters a proxy can act for.
We would also welcome further restrictions on the handling of absent vote applications to prevent political parties and candidates collecting forms from electors.
Reapplying for an absent vote/postal vote every three years rather than five will bring additional burden to Electoral Registration Officers, creating regular peaks of demand. While this change is administratively manageable, we will continue to call for a review of the absent vote application process and a move away from the current paper-based system.
We also call for central funding to cover the impact of these changes so the cost is not borne by local authorities.
At present, alleged electoral offences are too often not taken forward to prosecution. This undermines trust in the electoral process and is not a sufficient deterrent.
We welcome the strengthening of measures around undue influence, and the broader emphasis on tackling and preventing electoral fraud. We hope police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service will be supported to take reported offences more seriously.
Voting and Candidacy Rights Agreements
We look forward to working with the UK government to ensure all eligible UK residents can register to vote. Our members work tirelessly to enable democracy and this will include managing changes to voting and candidacy rights for EU nationals.
6 July 2021