Electoral administrators call for major changes to election rules

The Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA) has published a report, Beyond 2010: the future of electoral administration in the UK, reviewing the workings of the electoral system in this year’s May elections and calling for major changes to be introduced.

The report repeats previous calls for the laws governing elections to be made simpler and codified into one act, rather than as at present scattered across numerous different acts. The AEA is also calling for a review of the way that the running of elections is funded and structured.

More controversially, the AEA also calls for a new system for enforcing election laws with the introduction of,

a clearer and local system of accountability and challenge through the introduction in election law of a formal complaints system. This should establish a court of first resort to deal with complaints arising from the conduct of elections.

A low level complaints system may help filter off some issues, such as partially missing imprints on leaflets which nonetheless are clearly from a particular party or candidate, which take up police time to little end. However, given the existing overlapping roles for Returning Officers, the Electoral Commission, the police, the CPS, Parliamentary authorities and even local government standards systems (who have dealt with complaints over leaflets), adding in a new formal complaints system could increase rather than reduce complexity and result in more time being consumed as an issue is raised repeatedly via different routes.

Electoral administrators are also calling for a lengthening of the timetable for general elections and Parliamentary by-elections. Although motivated by giving more time for administrative tasks to be completed during the campaign, such longer timescales would also tackle the long-term decline in the length of Parliamentary by-election campaigning with the resulting decrease in the time in which voters can find out about candidates and policies. (On this last point see my research Parliamentary by-elections get four weeks shorter – and why it matters.)

The review also includes a very sensible suggestion that where postal votes end up being rejected because of a human error by a valid would-be voter (e.g. they transposed date and month of birth by mistake on their original application), then Returning Officers should have more power to contact the person to tell them something has gone wrong and give them a chance to rectify the problem before any future election which is also covered by that faulty postal vote application.

The Association of Electoral Administrators is calling for election writs to be modernised and electronic delivery and return to be possible, along with electronic filing of election expense returns.

Here is the full report along with all the recommendations.


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