Celebrating Black history month

By Mark Nyack, Senior Communications Officer (Public Information)

Mark BME blog

Often the immeasurable contributions made by black and ethnic minority people to academia, research, art, music, politics and technology are overlooked. Black history is part of all our histories but it has sometimes been denied a place in our cultural awareness. 

Black history month aims to address this. It informs and educates all of us by highlighting and celebrating the achievements and contributions of the black community over the years. As Black history month nears to an end it’s a great opportunity to celebrate diversity more broadly and the steps forward that society has made. 

At the Electoral Commission we recognise the contributions made by all sections of our society and the importance of ensuring everyone has their say. We want to ensure our voter registration message reaches everyone, particularly under-registered groups. This is particularly important at this time of year as every local authority across the UK undertakes the annual canvass, ensuring that their electoral registers are accurate and up to date.

The 2017 British Election Study indicates that ethnic minorities are generally less likely to vote than white people. It estimated turnout among BAME voters to be around 59%, 11 percentage points lower than the turnout among white voters 70%.

The first step to having your say at an election or referendum is to ensure your name is on the electoral register.

Our research indicates that black and minority ethnic people are a significantly under registered groups in the UK. Our report looking at the accuracy and completeness of the electoral register published in 2016 shows that 25% of black people, 20% of Asian people and 23% of people with mixed ethnicity are not on the electoral roll in the UK.

bme voters

For the May 2018 elections the Commission partnered with BME organisations to help spread the registration message by sharing resources that promoted voter registration.

This targeted approach across various under registered groups ensured that all sections of the community had exposure to our public awareness activities.

Politics affects every part of our lives. If you’re not registered to vote you don’t have a voice. It’s quick and easy to register to vote online, simply visit www.gov.uk/registertovote

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The limits of transparency in Northern Ireland

By Bob Posner, Director of Political Finance and Regulation and Legal Counsel

Transparency is a guiding principle for us at the Electoral Commission. We believe voters should be able to see and understand how political parties and campaigners are funded; how they spend their money; and who they target with campaign materials.

The rules set out by Parliament, which we enforce, state that political parties and campaign groups must provide us with information on donations and loans, campaign spending and annual accounts. We then publish the information via our easy to use, searchable database. For us, our role is not just about publishing political finance information, it is about ensuring this information is easy to access and open to scrutiny. We believe this increases public trust and confidence in our democratic process.

Until recently, these rules did not extend fully to Northern Ireland. While political parties in Northern Ireland were required to provide us with the same financial information, we were not permitted to publish or share anything about donations and loans to these parties.

A major milestone in addressing the lack of transparency in Northern Ireland political finance came last year, when legislation was introduced allowing us to publish details of donations and loans to Northern Ireland parties, received from July 2017 onwards. While this is an encouraging start, it is vital we don’t stop there.

Prior to this change in legislation, we dealt with donation and loan information from Northern Ireland differently, for publication purposes, but it was still subject to rigorous compliance checks by us. This means checking donations to political parties in Northern Ireland to make sure they come from a permissible source. Failing to return an impermissible donation within 30 days can be an electoral offence and where we find evidence that this has happened we take action in line with our Enforcement Policy. If that means an investigation, we then publish its outcome even if we cannot publish details of the donation itself.

However the Commission continues to be prevented from disclosing any information concerning donations to political parties in Northern Ireland made before 1 July 2017. To do so would be an offence with serious penalties for the Commission and our staff.  This makes it extremely difficult for us to discuss and share information about how political parties in Northern Ireland are funded.

A lack of transparency is not good for our democracy and prevents the public from having important information on how their political parties are funded. That is why we welcomed the change in the law last year but also why we continue to call on the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to introduce further legislation to enable us to publish the information we hold from January 2014.

This was the government’s original intention when the law was changed in 2014. At that time we advised political parties to make their donors aware that all donations made from January 2014 could be made public in the future. Extending the transparency rules to 2014 would open up a period of intense electoral activity to scrutiny, taking in two UK parliamentary general elections, two Northern Ireland Assembly elections, EU and local government elections and the EU referendum. Transparency for these significant electoral events would do a great deal for voter trust and confidence in the democratic process.

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A re-fresher in registering university students

By Melanie Davidson, Head of Support and Improvement

Young people are far less likely to be registered to vote than their older counter parts – across the UK 1 in 3 of those eligible to vote under the age of 24 aren’t registered. In addition, those who’ve recently moved and those who live in privately rented property are much less likely to be registered than people who’ve lived in a house that they own for a long time.

Young, mobile, and likely to live in rented accommodation – university students are a group that often pose challenges to Electoral Registration Officers whose task it is to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the register. Despite this, there are a number of ways your team can engage students.

Universities can be vital partners in encouraging student registration. Building relationships with university staff could help you identify where they may be able to help. For example, there may be opportunities for them to include registration information in enrolment documents, or introduce the topic at welcome briefings.

Students blog

In addition, touch base with halls of residence and scope the possibilities for sharing information of the students living in the properties. An engaged halls monitor may also raise the message face-to-face with students and be an ambassador for your message.

You can also look into using data readily available to you, such as council tax documents. These detail properties which are exempt because they house students, so you can begin mapping areas to focus your efforts.

We can provide plenty of resources to help you encourage the students in your area to register to vote. We’ve got a dedicated webpage on sharing good practice for reaching students, as well as detailed guidance on reviewing and updating your public engagement strategy and registration plan.

To stay up to date with our latest resources, sign up to our voter registration newsletter, Roll Call now.

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Electoral Commission launches consultation on election spending

Codes of practice consultation image.jpg

By Bob Posner, Director of Political Finance and Regulation and Legal Counsel

Today we’ve launched our new consultation on the Codes of Practice on election spending for candidates and political parties. We want your input to make sure they’re comprehensive, promote consistency, and provide the necessary clarity you need.

We hope these Codes will make it easier for you to submit your own or your party’s returns, simplifying the process and removing any blurred lines that there might have been. It will also help to increase transparency in the spending and reporting of expenses at elections and in turn help increase voter confidence in the system of political and election finance.

With two general elections in quick succession, we understand that the demand on candidates, agents and parties has been high. After the 2017 general election we received over 3,300 candidate spending returns totalling over £14 million. We also received 69 political party returns, detailing over £39 million worth of spending. So simplifying this process will benefit a huge number of people involved in spending returns.

In responding to this consultation you’ll help us to further demystify the process and remove any confusion that you or your party may have over the process of campaign reporting.

To inform the Codes, we’ve drawn on our experience as a regulator and also from the views of parties, candidates, and agents to make sure that these Codes will be as helpful for you as possible.

The aims of the Codes

We have introduced the Codes to:

  • provide guidance for candidates, their agents and political parties about what items of spending count towards the spending limits and are to be reported
  • make clear to political parties and candidates about when spending should be in a candidate return and when it should be in a political party return
  • ensure the reporting of spending, including digital campaigning by political parties and candidates is clear and consistent.

The Codes set out what is and isn’t included in the categories of spending for elections and allow us to give guidance on the cases and circumstances where spending will be regarded as contributing to a candidate’s election or alternatively to the promotion of a party.  We’ve set out a number of questions to assist in consultation responses, including ‘Are the Codes easy to understand?’ and ‘Do the Codes cover all the types of spending on digital campaigning at elections?’ but we also welcome and encourage any further feedback you may feel relevant.

Next steps

Once finalised, these Codes will be presented to the Minister for the Cabinet Office for consideration before being laid before the UK Parliament for approval. When in force, political parties, candidates and agents must abide by the Codes when they organise their campaigns and when they complete their spending returns after an election.

The Scottish Parliament has responsibility for the law on Scottish Parliament and Scottish local government elections whilst the National Assembly for Wales has responsibility for the law on Assembly and Welsh local government elections. We anticipate also developing Codes appropriate to those elections, which will be subject at that time to consultation.

How you can get involved

We welcome responses before Tuesday 4 December. You will find the consultation questions on page 7 of the consultation document. You can also view the Code of Practice for candidates and the Code of Practice for political parties.

Please send your answers and any other comments to:

Codes@electoralcommission.org.uk

Responses can also be submitted by post to:

Codes of Practice Consultation

The Electoral Commission

3 Bunhill Row

London EC1Y 8YZ

Responses can also be submitted by phone to Denise Bottom on 0207 271 0638.

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Making the electoral system more accessible for everyone

Polling station 1-02By Ailsa Irvine, Director of Electoral Administration and Guidance at the Electoral Commission

Everyone should be able to participate in elections and cast their vote with confidence, but this is not always the case. Even though they have the right to vote, some people face barriers to taking part in our democratic process.

Our electoral system needs to be made accessible to all. That is why we welcome the UK Government’s recommendations, announced today, and are keen to see improvements made as soon as possible.

The recommendations, which aim to help make elections more accessible to voters with a disability, are the product of a call for evidence from the UK Government.

Our report ‘Elections for everyone’ found that people with a disability are less likely to find elections well run. This has to change.

After the general election last year, we undertook research with voters that have disabilities to inform our report, Elections for everyone. We heard testimonials from voters with learning and physical disabilities and people living with mental illness, about their experiences of registering to vote and voting. We also spoke to a number of charities as part of our research. While most voters are happy with registering to vote and voting in the UK, not all voters with disabilities had a good experience. This must be improved.

We submitted our report as evidence and made recommendations to the UK Government, political parties, candidates, electoral administrators, carers and support workers on what they can do to make elections more accessible. We also committed to stepping up our work with everyone involved in running elections to help ensure there are no barriers to voting.

We are pleased that the UK Government has used the evidence we provided for the recommendations they have released this week. We will continue to do what we can to see the recommendations put into action. This includes strengthening the support we give to electoral administrators so that they can help people with a disability to register and to vote.

Ensuring that nobody faces barriers to voting is very important, and collaboration and cooperation will be key to overcoming the issues voters have told us about and ensuring that elections are for everyone.

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What do election teams do?

Elections teams at local authorities work hard all year round to ensure that elections are well run in their area.

Rhonda Booth is the Democratic Services Manager at South Holland District Council in Lincolnshire. In these videos, Rhonda talks about her team’s roles throughout the year.

Look out for more videos and blogs from local authority election teams soon.

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When does working together break the rules?

Promoting public confidence in the democratic process is at the heart of the Electoral Commission’s work. For the public to have confidence in the process, fairness and transparency are vital. And to provide that, we have laws that govern political and electoral finance which were set out by Parliament and are enforced by us.

These laws regulate the money received and spent by political parties and campaign groups.  A fundamental element is the spending cap; in all elections and referendums there are spending limits which parties and campaign groups cannot exceed. The cap ensures a fixed ceiling on campaign spending and is one of the ways we ensure fairness. Essentially, it means the outcome of an election or referendum cannot be bought.

In the 2016 EU referendum, groups campaigned either to remain in or leave the EU, with a number of different groups campaigning for each outcome. In the ten week period leading up to the vote, the two designated lead campaigners (one for the leave camp and one for remain) could spend up to £7 million each, while other groups had a limit of £700,000 each.

Campaign groups can work together to achieve a particular outcome, but their spending – when combined – must not exceed their individual spending limit. Where a lead campaigner is working together with other campaign groups, all the spending will count towards the lead campaigner’s total and needs to fall within the £7 million limit.

For the purposes of electoral law, working together means that there is a coordinated plan or arrangement between two or more campaigners and that the groups spend money in line with that plan in order to achieve a particular outcome.

We consider groups to be working together if they:

  • Spend money on joint advertising, leaflets or events.
  • Coordinate spending by, for example, agreeing to each focus on particular areas, arguments or voters.
  • Approve or influence each other’s spending.
  • Have discussions with other campaigners that involve decision making or coordinating plans.
  • Consult other campaigners about what should be said in each campaign and how the campaign should be organised.

One of the main reasons for these working together rules is to prevent campaigners from funnelling money into other groups when they are close to their spending limit. If we see evidence that this has happened, we will investigate campaigners in line with our enforcement policy. It’s just one of the ways we ensure that elections and referendums are free, fair and trusted by the public.

Our recent investigation into Vote Leave and BeLeave showed that Parliament’s rules on joint working had been broken. We found evidence that the money spent by BeLeave and Mr Grimes on Aggregate IQ was done so under a common plan with Vote Leave. It meant Vote Leave commissioned and paid for nearly £700,000 worth of services, despite approaching its legal spending limit.

This breach of electoral law is only now coming to light, two years after the EU referendum. The delay in uncovering this offence does not provide voters with the transparency and confidence they should expect.

We are urging the Government to make changes to electoral law that would provide the necessary transparency at a much earlier stage. We’re calling on the Government to:

  • Clarify the regulation of government spending during regulated referendum periods.
  • Compel campaigners to provide imprints on digital and online campaigning materials.
  • Ensure campaigners report more detailed spending breakdowns that differentiate between types of advertising such as online and social media promotion.

This investigation also makes it clear that the Commission needs stronger investigatory powers and higher sanctions that serve as a real deterrent to those who are prepared to break the rules that protect the legitimacy of the UK democratic process.

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