Sensible proposals on election law reform from the Law Commissions

The interim report from the Law Commissions into consolidating Britain’s horribly fragmented and opaque election law is out, and generally it is a set of good proposals. It comes with plenty of well-aimed barbs at the current mess, such as:

The scheme of the Act is not obvious even to lawyers.

It is also peppered with sensible suggestions such as:

We also recommend that returning officers should have standing to bring an election petition where there has been an admitted breach of electoral law in running the election; they should not have to wait for others to bring one.

This would tackle the current unsatisfactory situation where a Returning Officer makes and admits an error, but then someone else has to go to the time, trouble and expense of legal action to put it right.

The nature of a legal consolidation process is to do just that – tidy up and improve wording rather than introduce major changes. So omissions such as anything to fix the broken constituency expense limits system (in short: there no longer are meaningful constituency controls) are understandable as that would really be a matter of a significant policy change.

However, three cheers from me for the following given my long-standing interest in issue it addresses:

The imprint requirement should extend to online campaign material which may reasonably be regarded as intending to procure or promote any particular result, subject to a reasonable practicability defence.

For the background to this see my post from seven years ago complaining about the “farcical slowness” in introducing what was by then already a six-year-old recommendation.

Welcome too is this sensible judgment on absent voting:

Our consultation paper set out a case for regulation by law, rather than voluntary code of conduct, of handling by election campaigners of electors’ completed absent voting applications and postal votes. The secret ballot provides a protection against fraud in the in-person voting context which is not available in postal voting. The public perception of fraud is damaging, as is the risk of degrading standards by campaigners who perceive fraud by opponents to be effective, and to go on unpunished. On the other hand, we could also see practical problems in defining who is and who is not a campaigner, and in promoting participation in the poll, which campaigners can do at no cost to the public purse. We therefore asked the public whether the law should regulate involvement by campaigners in certain activities relating to completed absent voting applications and postal votes.

After consultation, and despite strong support for the principle of regulation by law of campaigner handling of absent voting papers, we were left with significant doubts, in particular over the following objections:

(1) regulation would criminalise helpful and otherwise unavailable assistance for those voters who need it;

(2) regulation would be difficult to enforce, and breaches hard to detect – putting off honest campaigners without deterring the dishonest ones.

We therefore do not make a recommendation that campaigner handling of postal votes should be regulated by law.


UPDATE: Alas, two years and more on, there’s still very little sign of these recommendations being acted on.

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