It’s a common complaint from election candidates and their campaign teams that local electoral returning officers (EROs) can be very slow to supply the copies of the electoral register and postal voter lists that they are legally entitled to. That not only hinders their own campaigning, it also undermines the fight against postal vote fraud (as it is often the scrutiny given to these lists by one party which exposes questionable activity by another for the police to investigate).
The Electoral Commission has however been taking action over this, and in its 14 August 2013 Electoral Administration Bulletin reports:
We sought views from EROs on a definition of an acceptable timeframe for supply of the register, which will form the basis against which assessments of performance against the current performance standard 5: supply and security of the register will be made. At the same time we have also been seeking views from recipients of the register.
We proposed the following definition: ‘On publication of the register or on receipt of a valid request, EROs are to supply copies of the register and absent voter lists to those entitled to receive them within 7 calendar days.’
The majority of respondents to the consultation were broadly satisfied with this approach but a number of respondents did comment that the use of calendar days could be problematic in the event that the 7 calendar days included bank holidays. We have therefore amended the timeframe to 5 working days and it is this timeframe that we will consider in making final assessments of performance against standard 5 in respect of the postponed 2013 canvass.
The timing of receipt is particularly important to some recipients – for example, political parties need the electoral register to fulfil their statutory obligations in relation to the checking of donations. We recognise that there may be exceptional circumstances, however, where supply within 5 working days cannot be achieved and so where it appears that the timeframe has not been met we will ask EROs to provide us with an explanation as to the reasons why.