Political

Section 66a, 1983 Representation of the People Act

On the off chance anyone needs the wording of Section 66A from the 1983 RPA (Representation of the People Act)…

66A Prohibition on publication of exit polls
(1) No person shall, in the case of an election to which this section applies, publish before the poll is closed–

(a) any statement relating to the way in which voters have voted at the election where that statement is (or might reasonably be taken to be) based on information given by voters after they have voted, or

(b) any forecast as to the result of the election which is (or might reasonably be taken to be) based on information so given.

(2) This section applies to–

(a) any parliamentary election; and

(b) any local government election in England or Wales.*

(3) If a person acts in contravention of subsection (1) above, he shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months.

(4) In this section–

“forecast” includes estimate;

“publish” means make available to the public at large, or any section of the public, in whatever form and by whatever means;

and any reference to the result of an election is a reference to the result of the election either as a whole or so far as any particular candidate or candidates at the election is or are concerned.

 

* Although only two types of elections are listed, other legislation applies the exit poll ban to other elections, including referendums and Police and Crime Commissioner elections.

12 responses to “Section 66a, 1983 Representation of the People Act”

  1. It’s a particularly ridiculous article – no media outlet can speculate on the result if they have spoken to voters about their intentions on the day?

  2. Morus: it’s not “intentions” that this clause deals with, it’s actual *votes*. Commenting on postal vote tallies is like opening up ballot boxes during voting, and publicizing running totals.

  3. “Commenting on postal vote tallies is like opening up ballot boxes during voting, and publicizing running totals.”

    No, two of those are legal. Opening ballot boxes isn’t.

  4. How can it be, unless it was “based on information given by voters after they have voted”? You’ve not thought this through.

  5. Jason: that’s exactly what it is. At the postal vote opening which took place in Bristol, for example, returned and completed postal vote paperwork was being opened, checked and sorted. That includes ballot papers which people have completed. The ballot papers are then stored securely ready for the count next Thursday.

    This is a normal process that happens all round the country. Checking the paperwork in advance means that, for example, signs of electoral fraud can be spotted whilst it’s still going on and so there’s more chance for the police to catch the culprits. It’s a system that has generally worked well, except where people have broken the law by publicly revealing information taken from those completed ballot papers.

    (In case you’re wondering how I know such things: my own experience on this is that I’ve been to numerous postal vote openings over the last two decades; have served on the Electoral Commission’s Political Parties Panel and co-authored two books on electoral law.)

  6. Yes, I understand the process, my question is how this can be said to be an exit poll.

    And, why then are Bristol City Council referring to Section 66 (4) (d) instead?

    Which would appear itself to be inapplicable here. In McWhirter v Platten [1969] 1 All E.R. 906. Lord Parker’s comment that: “There cannot be any secrecy in the totality of the votes, as opposed to how any particular person voted.” seems apposite.

  7. I think Jason must be right about this, though, Mark. It wasn’t based on information given by voters after they voted. The only information on which it was based was the votes themselves. Section 66A clearly targets the essence of what an exit poll is – that’s different from revealing what actual votes tally up to.

    If there’s an offence here, I think it must be under section 66(4). Apologies for the ultra-long URL:

    http://www.statutelaw.gov.uk/content.aspx?LegType=Act+(UK+Public+General)&title=representation&Year=1983&searchEnacted=0&extentMatchOnly=0&confersPower=0&blanketAmendment=0&sortAlpha=0&TYPE=QS&PageNumber=1&NavFrom=0&parentActiveTextDocId=2353486&ActiveTextDocId=2353571&filesize=30281

    It’s none of the (a) to (d) list (it’s not (d) unless she disclosed who any particular voter voted for), but arguably she commits an offence simply under s66(4) itself if she attending proceedings in connection with the receipt of postal ballot papers and then breached her duty to maintain and aid in maintaining the secrecy of the voting.

    • Ah, I see what you mean. Two things (a) you’re right, the (other) secrecy provision applies too, and (b) on the exit poll definition, that’s not how the law has been interpreted in the past though there isn’t legal precedence in the normal way as previous cases haven’t (as far as I’m aware) made it as far as a court ruling.

  8. I think the distinction is how they came by the information. Anyone attending a count or postal vote verification would be covered by S66(1)(d).
    Anyone asking people how they voted and publishing it would be covered by S66A.
    However, if a journalist, say, was told the outcome of the postal vote verification and published it, they would not be breaking the law.
    They would not be covered by S66(1)(d) as they were not “attending” and so are not bound by this and they did not get the information by asking people how they voted so are not covered by S66A, which specifically relates to “based on information given by voters after they have voted”.

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