Two good ideas and one duff one from the Electoral Commission

The Electoral Commission’s report into the May 2014 elections is fairly low-key, but in amongst the modest changes floated based on the lessons of this year are a couple of welcome details – and one misplaced idea.

Overall the Electoral Commission says:

Voter confidence at the May 2014 European Parliamentary elections in the UK and local elections in England and Northern Ireland was high, says a report by the independent elections watchdog, but there are lessons to be learnt before future polls, including the UK Parliamentary General Election next May.

Nearly nine in ten voters surveyed (88%) were confident that the elections were well-run, and nearly all were satisfied with their experience of voting, whether in person or by post, reflecting positively on the work of local authority Returning Officers and their staff.

Despite the high levels of voter confidence, some problems did arise during the elections. These included:

  • Long election counts in Tower Hamlets and Northern Ireland.
  • Uncceptable campaigner behaviour. For example, in Tower Hamlets some voters reported large groups and intimidating behaviour outside polling stations; in other areas some campaigners did not follow the agreed Code of Conduct for handling completed postal vote applications which meant that some voters were not able to vote by post.
  • Issues with descriptions on ballot papers, leading to some reported voter confusion at the European Parliamentary elections.
  • Ballot papers for the European Parliamentary elections being handed to voters folded up, obscuring some party names, despite our clear guidance to the contrary.
  • Some citizens of other EU member states not being able to cast their vote in the European Parliamentary election because they hadn’t completed the necessary declaration stating that they would vote in the UK rather than their home country.

Amongst the welcome suggested improvements are:

  • Ballot papers must be handed to voters fully unfolded. The Commission will be reinforcing this message between now and next May.
  • The Commission will look at whether legislation could be changed so that in future European citizens only need to fill in one form to be able to vote at European Parliament elections in the UK. It will make recommendations to the Government in sufficient time for any change in the law to be introduced ahead of the 2019 European elections, and make sure that whatever process is in place it is clearly communicated to EU citizens in the UK.

The latter point is particularly welcome. It’s all too common a feature of not only electoral law but life in Britain (and indeed the world*) that legal requirements to do more than one thing result in multiple pieces of paper rather than one piece of paper which fulfils multiple legal requirements in one go.

As for the less good idea:

Political parties and campaigners should agree not to handle completed postal vote applications or postal ballot packs. The Commission will discuss these changes with political parties and other campaigners and seek their agreements to a revised voluntary Code of Conduct for Campaigners.

It’s less good because, whilst postal vote fraud does need addressing, there is very little evidence that this step would actually help with that and given how variable councils are with handling postal vote applications, this would cut off what is often a very useful service provided by parties to voters.

* I doubt aliens escape this either, but now I’m just speculating.

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