Three areas for change before for the next referendum

Adrian Fryer, Senior Policy Advisor

The aftermath of the EU Referendum has inspired debate about a number of aspects of the poll, and recently that has included a focus on the financial controls that operated during and after the poll. As the regulator in this area, the Commission can provide direction on how the regulatory framework for future referendums can stay effective, relevant and proportionate.

After the referendum, campaigners that spent more than £10,000 were required to submit a spending and donation return to us, itemising how much they spent on campaigning activities and where their funding came from. This not only provided transparency for voters so that we can all see how money was raised and spent to secure votes, but it also allowed the Commission to consider how well the regulatory framework performed.

Here are three areas of the regulatory framework that should be changed for future UK referendums:

1) Transparency on sources of donations and loans is the new normal. Pre-poll reporting of donations and loans by campaigners has now been successfully applied twice, in the periods before both the EU and Scottish independence referendums. On both occasions, voters were able to see the sources of campaigning funding before they cast their vote. At the moment these rules only sit in the specific legislation for those polls, which is why we are recommending that they are incorporated into the Political Parties, Elections, and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA), the legislation that underpins the rules for UK-wide referendums.

2) Campaigners can hire staff to undertake campaigning activities without the cost being included in the spending limits. Although we knew this already, our campaign monitoring for the EU referendum noted media commentary that by the end of 2015 the two lead campaigners had already hired some 50 staff between them. There was also media comment that Vote Leave Ltd employed 46 professional staff working on their ‘ground campaign’ and that The In Campaign Ltd had recruited at least five members of the Conservative Party election team to take up posts in the company. That is why this gap in a large strand of referendum campaign spending should be closed.

3) Joint spending controls could usefully be clarified. Although there have been rules around joint spending for each referendum since 2011, the Government and Parliament could improve the Commission’s ability to provide specific advice and guidance to campaigners on these rules by clarifying what constitutes joint spending. This would also help to allay campaigners concerns at any future referendum.

These are just three of the regulatory controls on which which we have made recommendations in our report on the regulation of the EU Referendum; if you want to read the full report and see all of our other recommendations, it is available on our website.

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The new registration system has been holding up but more ambitious reforms are needed in the long-term.

Davide.Tiberti                                                                                                                                   Research & Evaluation Manager, Electoral Commission

1 December is an important date in the electoral calendar: revised registers are published at the end of the autumn canvass and a snapshot is taken of each register held by local authorities across the country. This data is then collected at a national level, to be used for official statistics, boundary reviews and as an indication of the effectiveness of activity undertaken by each Electoral Registration Officers (EROs).

Today we published our assessment of the December 2016 registers. The data shows an increase (+2.5%) in the size of the local government electorate since December 2015, mainly as a result of the high level of registrations made ahead of the May 2016 polls and EU referendum.

More positively, the number of attainers increased by 18% and, while this is a significant increment, the figure is still approximately 30% smaller than the number registered in February/March 2014, before the transition to the new registration system started.

Overall, our analysis confirms the findings from our study published in summer 2016 on the accuracy and completeness of the December 2015 registers, the ultimate indicators of the quality of the registers.

In that report, our final assessment on the transition to the new system of Individual Electoral Registration (IER), we found that accuracy increased by 4 percentage points during the transition (June 2014 to December 2015) while completeness remained broadly stable, with a decline of less than 1 percentage point.

The trend seen since then shows that many people registered to vote before the May 2016 polls and the EU referendum and, as a result, register entries increased by 3.9% between December 2015 and June 2016. During the autumn canvass, EROs undertook house-to-house activity, and as many redundant entries were removed, register size decreased by 1.5% since June 2016.

This trend confirms IER is a genuine ‘all-year round’ system and the December electorate is only a snapshot. Entries fluctuate throughout the year: they increase at election time as people are now more likely to register in the build-up to the polls than during the autumn canvass, but they decrease for the publication of the revised registers in December as house-to-house activity helps EROs to audit the accuracy of their register.

As a result the registers in use at elections are more likely to be complete, while the December ones are probably more accurate.

The high level of additions and deletions achieved in 2016 indicates that the quality of the registers has remained largely stable over the last year (91% accurate and 84% complete in December 2015) although this does mean that approximately 8 million people are not correctly registered.
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Also the system was significantly helped by the high-turnout polls that took place in May 2015 and 2016. In fact, there are signs that the system won’t be sustainable in the long term as without high-profile electoral events, accuracy and completeness could decline.

Many of the new IER provisions – mainly the two-stage canvass process – increased the cost of the autumn canvass and reduced its efficacy.

Moreover, the introduction of online registration has significantly changed the way people register, with almost 80% of applications submitted online and two thirds of registrations made outside the canvass period.

Pilots set up by the Cabinet Office, to test different approaches to canvassing, may provide useful insight into how to improve the efficiency of the autumn canvass; however, in the longer term we believe it is time to move away from a system where individuals have to re-register every time they move home and towards a more automatic system of registration. One specific aspect of this type of system could be the automatic registration of 16 and 17 year old attainers at the point National Insurance Numbers are assigned.

Our public opinions surveys show that public would support such a change: while 80% of people are satisfied with the registration system, satisfaction is lower among younger age groups who are the least likely to be registered (63% of 18-24s compared to 89% among over 65s).

More than half (56%) supports a more ‘direct’ form of registration – either automatically registering people when they reach voting age (36%) or updating an entry when someone moves home (20%).

Individual Electoral Registration has been in place for a year and made the registration process more secure with people having to provide their date of birth and National Insurance number when they apply to register to vote. Now, further work is needed to make electoral registration even more convenient and as cost-effective as possible. The Commission, working with the Cabinet office, will strive to further modernise the registration process so that it keeps pace with technological developments.

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Show us what is #OnYourDoorstep!

Next week we’re launching our #OnYourDoorstep campaign. Find out what, why and how you can get involved!

Around 8 million people in Great Britain are not correctly registered to vote. Far too many, right? Help us to change that!

Local elections are taking place across England, Scotland and Wales this May. To ensure people can vote in these elections, we’re launching #OnYourDoorstep to get people registered to vote now.

The elections impact your local area; your local park, that school down the road and the bus you get every day. This is your opportunity to have your say on who represents you, so don’t miss out!

Tuesday 7 March is #OnYourDoorstep day and we’re asking: What do you love most about your local community?

On #OnYourDoorstep day you’ll see local councils across Great Britain sharing the many different things they do. From gritting the streets on a chilly morning to keeping our parks clean, these are often behind-the-scenes activities that we’re bringing to the forefront.

Keep an eye out next Tuesday for #OnYourDoorstep and all things local government… and perhaps share something of your own!

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How can I get involved?

Wherever you call home, show us what you love most about your local community by sharing a pic, or two this coming Tuesday! Maybe it’s the community veggie garden or the basketball courts down the road… then finish it off with the hashtag – #OnYourDoorstep.

No campaign launch would be complete without a thunderclap to kick it off… so (naturally) we have one! Sign up to our thunderclap and help us start the day with a bang.

Finally, click share to pass this blog on to your family and friends!

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Don’t be left in the background – get #ReadyToVote

With just one week to go, find out how you can ensure young people across Scotland are #ReadyToVote for the Scottish council elections this May…

By Sarah Mackie, Senior Officer, Electoral Commission Scotland

brian-quote-forefront-politics

“The opportunity to vote is a privilege that many across the world are denied. It is one of the best methods to be heard and to be involved in decision-making. Voting puts us right at the forefront of politics, instead of leaving us in the background.

Registering to vote doesn’t take long. Take a few moments out of your day to make an impact on the world around you,” says Brian.

The Scottish council elections on Thursday 4 May are the first Scotland-wide council elections in which 16- and 17-year-olds can vote.

The elections will decide who represents you in your local council and who makes decisions on the provision of local services, such as education, housing and public transport.

Brian and other teens like him across Scotland want to have their say. But if they aren’t registered, they can’t vote.

You can help young people in Scotland get #ReadyToVote by running a registration event – or encouraging your networks to host an event – at your school, youth centre or college from Wednesday 1 March, which is #ReadyToVote day.

vonnie-sandlan-quote-values-reflected-in-leaders

Don’t worry, we’ve produced a toolkit which includes everything required to take part. Our toolkit includes resources to promote the event, images to use on social media, factsheets and activities to do with students.

Download your toolkit now

You can also get involved by promoting #ReadyToVote on social media. Our toolkit includes lots of graphic images you can share to get the word out there.

With just one week to go until #ReadyToVote, we have over 165 schools from 26 council areas across Scotland already signed up to take part. Sign up now!

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Help us make the invisible; visible

The elections on Thursday 4 May are just around the corner. Yet millions remain without a voice. Read this blog to find out how you can help change that…

By Ashleigh Yardy, Senior Communications Officer, Electoral Commission

partnership-resources-blog

Around eight million people in Great Britain do not have a voice in matters that affect them. Effectively, they are invisible.

Why? Because they aren’t correctly registered to vote.

Some groups of people remain less likely to be registered than others. Young people, home movers and renters, students and BME communities continue to top the invisible list. Did you know that one in three 18-24-year-olds are not registered? Or that only 27% of people who’ve lived at their place for up to a year are on the electoral roll?

If you believe eight million without their democratic right to vote is far too many, then help us change it.

The local elections on Thursday 4 May will decide who represents you in your local council and who makes decisions on the provision of local services, such as education, housing and public transport. That’s why the main message of our campaign is simple; the elections are #OnYourDoorstep.

We’ve created a range of resources to encourage participation in the local elections across Scotland, Wales and England. You can download posters, banners, infographics, a guide that explains it all and much more from our website.

Download your resources now

It’s easy. You can share a post from our Facebook page or RT us or use one of our resources to create your own message. Print a poster and stick it up in your staff kitchen – don’t forget; waiting for the kettle to boil is the perfect time to register online. Blog about it or write a post for your intranet. We can all do something to spread the word.

We work with a range of public, private and voluntary organisations to reach those who are least likely to be registered to vote. Ahead of the May 2016 elections, we worked with organisations such as Shelter Scotland, RNIB Cyrmu and The Rainbow Project to promote voter registration. If your organisation is interested in getting involved, find out more on our partnerships page.

Remember to tell your friends, your family, your neighbours, your colleagues. Ensure the people who matter to you can have their say on Thursday 4 May.

From everyone here at the Electoral Commission, thank you for your support.

Download our resources to promote participation in the May 2017 elections now.

Note: 1 in 6 people not correctly registered in Great Britain is an estimated number of people that are not registered or are incorrectly registered as a proportion of the estimated eligible voting population (calculated from ONS population estimates). You can read more in our report on The December 2015 electoral registers in Great Britain.

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Helping voters find out where to vote

At today’s AEA conference, our Chief Executive Claire Bassett talked about our partnership with Democracy Club and how local authorities can get involved to help voters find better information about elections online.

Finding polling stations online

We are supporting Democracy Club’s work to improve digital services around elections. We believe that in this day and age, it is only right that voters expect to be able to find information – including the location of their polling station – online.

voting-at-a-polling-station

Voting at a polling station

Who are Democracy Club?

I’ll hand over to Joe Mitchell at Democracy Club to explain…

Democracy Club is a voluntary, non-partisan organisation that aims to make the process of democracy better for everyone. We build digital services, aggregate and clean data, manage crowdsourcing and partnerships to make this happen.

Our services have been used by 1.4m people to get better informed before elections; our data has been used by the likes of Google, Buzzfeed, the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph.

One of the tools we provide is an online polling station finder.

We will be providing the same service for the May 2017 elections (and beyond). We believe that if a voter wants to find their polling station, it is better both for them and the local council if they can do it online.

We just need data from local authorities to make it happen. If you share your data, voters in your area will be able find this information online, rather than calling you!

Find out more at https://democracyclub.org.uk/projects/polling-stations/

How is the Electoral Commission involved?

Our aim is to put voters first. From our early conversations with Democracy Club, it was clear that their work is of real benefit to voters

This is not a partnership we entered into lightly. We initially had many of the same questions we know administrators have had, such as:

Q. What if a polling station changes?

Joe: One of the advantages of digital data is that it is easier to update than paper polling cards. If you publish to a web address, we will regularly check the address. So all you need to do is ensure that when the data changes, you republish to the same web address. Alternatively, you can email us with the updates and we will make the changes as soon as possible – usually within hours)

Q. How will voters be given the correct polling station, as opposed to simply the nearest one?

Joe: Where data is of a good standard, this is mitigated entirely. It’s vital that councils either publish the districts as well as the stations, or alternatively, publish the entire Address-to-Polling-Station lookup table, so that voters are matched correctly. If we only get a list of polling station locations, there’s nothing we can do with that data, so voters will have to call their council.

Our conversations with Democracy Club quickly answered our questions – their expertise was obvious.

For polls in 2016, we directed users of our About my Vote website to Democracy Club’s websites in order to help voters find the answer to two common questions – who are the candidates and where is my polling station?

This worked well so now we are looking to take this one step further. Voters will be able to find information directly on our website.

We believe this will not only help voters but will also reduce the burden on administrators who might otherwise be fielding calls – one administrator recently told us they took over 580 calls on polling day, with calls lasting two minutes on average.

Making it happen

I would urge all elections staff to ask the question: “would voters in my area want find their polling station online?” If the answer is “yes”, sharing your polling station data with Democracy Club is the best way to make it happen.

Not only will your voters be able to find this on our website but you will also be able to have a polling station finder on your own site.

It does not require significant additional work for you. We know that every local authority’s situation is different and that data will be held in different ways – but it is highly likely that the data you hold can be used to provide this service. No personal data is required.

This is a service that we hope many local authorities will use in May – don’t miss out.

Simply get in touch with Democracy Club, or if you would prefer, the Commission, with any questions.

Emma Hartley, Head of Campaigns

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The results of our latest survey are in- here’s what the public thinks about voting.

The Electoral Commission aims to put voters’ interests at the centre of everything we do. To achieve this, it’s essential to find out how people think and feel about the electoral process. Like many organisations, we use public opinion research to help us do this.

We conduct a public opinion survey after every poll held in order to monitor the experience of participating in specific elections. In addition, we conduct the ‘Winter Tracker’, an annual UK-wide survey, every December. This covers a range of electoral issues and is designed to provide an overview of public sentiment towards the process of voting and democracy in the UK more broadly.

After the significant polls of 2016, the results this year show that confidence in and satisfaction with the system overall have improved. Three quarters (76%) are confident that elections are well run in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, compared to 66% in 2015. In line with this, 77% said that they are satisfied with the process of voting at elections, up from 68% in 2015.

As might be expected, those that participate in the electoral process tend to have a more positive view of it than those that do not.  Those that say they ‘always vote’ are significantly more likely to say that they are confident that elections are well run (82%) than those that say they ‘sometimes vote’ (62%) and never vote (48%).

The overall increase in satisfaction and confidence could in part be explained by the high levels of electoral engagement witnessed in 2016, where much of the UK electorate had the opportunity to cast their vote in May and then again in June. Indeed, June’s referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union saw the highest UK turnout since 1992.

Encouragingly, a year after the end of the transition to individual electoral registration (IER), the results show that views on registering to vote are also more positive. Levels of satisfaction with the system have increased to 80%, up from 75% in 2015. The majority (73%) also feel confident that the personal details they provide in order to register vote are held securely, up from 68% in 2015.

This being said, it is clear that improvements can be made. Satisfaction with the registration system is still lowest among younger age groups, those which our research consistently identifies as the least likely to be registered. 63% of 18-24s (16-24s in Scotland) and 77% of 25-34s say they are satisfied with the registration system, this compares with 89% among over 65s.

Despite this difference in satisfaction levels, there is a broad consensus across age groups about what can be done to improve the registration system. More than half (56%) indicate that a more ‘direct’ form of registration, either automatically registering people when they reach voting age (36%) or updating an entry when someone moves home (20%) would make them more satisfied. This makes sense; we know that recently moving house is one of the key reasons for people not being registered.

For a quarter (24%) the ability to check online if you are registered is most appealing. This is unsurprising given how many people contacted us in the run up to the referendum attempting to check their registration status. Data provided by local authorities suggested that close to 40% of the applications to vote in advance of the referendum were from people already registered.

The public are similarly decisive about the fact that increased transparency around political parties and their financial arrangements is the most important way elections and democracy in the UK can be improved: 40% say this would help.

These findings chime with key Electoral Commission priorities, the data we publish on political party finance, including donations, underpin our commitment to ensuring that the income and spending of parties and campaigners is open and transparent.

The findings also strongly echo themes that emerged from the submissions we received in the summer as part of our Strategic Review consultation. The introduction of photographic ID, the development of a process for checking registration status online as well as more automatic forms of voter registration are all measures we have called for in the past are integral to ensuring that our electoral system keeps pace with the expectations of 21st century voters.

We will continue to champion the modernisation and development of the electoral process where we identify room for improvement. Our public opinion work is a big part of the way we measure the health of our democracy, and will help us make sure we get right what matters most to voters.

Fieldwork was conducted by ICM who conducted 1,202 telephone interviews between the 9 and the 22 of December. More details on the methodology and the full results of the survey can be found on our website.

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