How we set up a campaign in 12 working days

By Emma Hartley, Head of Campaigns, Electoral Commission

Today we have published our evaluation of the voter registration campaign we ran for the snap UK general election in June, but we also wanted to share some reflections on how we got a UK-wide campaign up and running quickly. 

Here is the story of how we went from election announcement to campaign launch in just 12 working days…

General election campaign blog - team image small

Electoral Commission campaigns team

18 April 2017: It’s a quiet Tuesday in the Electoral Commission campaigns team. We’re back in after the Easter break having just finished our voter registration campaign ahead of the 4 May local elections.

It’s 11am and The Prime Minister is making an unexpected announcement.

There will be a UK general election on 8 June. Seven weeks and two days from today.

The registration deadline will be 22 May, giving us just under five weeks to plan and execute a campaign. We arranged a conference call with our ad agencies before the Prime Minister finished her speech, kicking off the 12 working days to launch.

The campaign

With so little time to prepare we couldn’t re-think everything so we carried over tried-and-tested elements from previous campaigns, looking for quick ways to keep things fresh. The fact we had carried out thorough evaluations in the wake of our previous campaigns meant we had a really good idea of what would work.

Our focus was on cutting through to under-registered audiences including students and young people, recent home movers, UK citizens living overseas and armed forces personnel.

A standalone UK general election has the advantage of being relatively simple to communicate: people generally know how to vote and are keen to register as long as they know they need to do so. We used the unexpected nature of the poll to our advantage, pushing the importance of registering to vote in the limited time left.

We updated our existing TV ad – it would have been impossible to record a new one in two weeks. We also recorded two new radio ads for students and home movers and created animated GIFs to use on social media.

But our activity didn’t end with the registration deadline. From 23 May onwards we were focused on making sure people had the information they needed to cast their vote, through partners and stakeholders as well as our own social media channels.

Beyond the Electoral Commission

Our advertising was bolstered by social media partnerships with Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Nextdoor, as well as PR work around key campaign milestones, getting us crucial additional publicity.

We called on our well-established network of local and central government, charities, corporate and voluntary organisations. We communicated through regular editions of Roll Call, our public awareness newsletter, and quickly produced resources for them to use, saving time for organisations across the country.

Stakeholder image

The Cabinet Office mobilised support across government departments to share registration messaging on social media and intranet channels. They also put registration reminders across gov.uk including at the end of passport and driving license applications. The Ministry of Defence and Foreign and Commonwealth Office in particular helped us access channels to reach armed forces personnel and UK citizens living overseas.

Through our partnership with Democracy Club we provided candidate and polling station information on our Your Vote Matters website. Our postcode lookup, which gave users details of candidates, how to contact their local authority, and in many cases their polling station, was used 390,000 times from 23 May.

How we worked

Every member of the team led a work stream, with daily update meetings keeping us on track.

With the amount of work we had to do we dived straight in to help each other out, fuelled by copious amounts of sugary snacks. We were collaborative in talking through issues since we didn’t have a long time to ponder the big decisions so it was important for us to put our heads together.

After a couple of intense weeks we were able to launch our overseas campaign on 28 April and our UK campaign on 8 May, which must be some kind of record.

What we know was a record was the size of the electorate – the biggest ever for a UK-wide poll with an estimated 46.8 million people able to vote.

Thank you to everyone who played a part in delivering this campaign at short notice – we couldn’t have done it without you.

You can read more information about our campaign on our website.

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Making your first time count

By Davide Tiberti, Research and Evaluation Manager at the Electoral Commission

High turnout is often regarded as an indicator of healthy democracies. Despite the surge at the last UK Parliamentary general election, turnout among young people in the UK remains low and some academics have highlighted how youth disengagement can generate a vicious circle: they argue that politicians can afford to neglect the interests of non-voters who in turn can feel let down and further disaffection sets in.

Several studies have shown the importance of first time voting, as evidence indicates that young citizens who fail to vote the first time they become eligible are less likely to vote throughout their lives.

This was a key driver behind the work of the Commission to promote registration and voting at the May 2017 elections in Scotland, where 16- and 17-year-olds were voting for the first time in a Scotland-wide set of council elections.

As part of our post-polls evaluation work, we also focused our attention on understanding this audience better by boosting the sample of 16-17s in our survey to find out what they think. The findings provide interesting insight into their views and electoral behavior.

What we know about the voting attitudes of 16- and 17-year-olds

Turnout among 16-17s is likely to have been in line with under 34s but lower than among over 35s.

While our public opinion data is not designed to  provide  turnout estimates by age group, we can use the findings in a comparative context to provide an indication of how turnout might have varied between age groups.

Our results suggest that turnout among 16-17s is likely to have been similar to that among 18-34s, but significantly lower than among those aged over 35: 51% of 16-17s claimed to have voted against 85% of those aged 55+.

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They are motivated by the desire to express their view and create change rather than by civic duty.

Our surveys have constantly shown how younger people tend to be less likely than older age groups to say that civic duty motivate them to vote. Civic responsibility reasons still remain the top motivation for voting for all age groups – even the younger ones – except 16-17s whose most common reason was ‘to express a view’.

Significantly higher than all other age groups, 20% said they voted ‘to help create a change’.

Pic 2They use social media to access information on candidates but are the most likely to say they didn’t get enough information.

Two in five 16-17s (40%) disagreed with the statement ‘I had enough information on candidates to be able to make an informed decision in the Scottish Council Elections’, significantly more than 35-54s (26%) and 55+ (17%).

Among those 16-17s who agreed with that statement (52%), 33% said they access information on candidates on social media: this is the most popular channel for this age cohort while for the 18+ it remains leaflets/flyers from parties and candidates.

Family and friends have a strong influence on their propensity to turnout.

Interestingly, as we saw at the Scottish Parliament elections in 2016, participation by family and friends has a strong influence on turnout among 16-17s. Of those who voted in May, 95% said that their parents/guardians had voted and 50% said that ‘most of my friends voted’. Among those who did not turn out, only 50% of parents/guardian and 10% of ‘most friends’ voted.

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They are less likely to be satisfied with the procedures for both registering and voting.

Our survey also shows that 16-17s year olds are less satisfied than the overall population when it comes to the procedure for voting (64% vs. 78%) and registering (76% vs. 88%). This is probably due to turnout and experience as first-time voters may need some time to become familiar with the process.

Nonetheless, this also highlights the need for the system to keep up with the changing expectations that society has of public services. Concerning electoral registration for example, technology and measures introduced over the last few years have brought positive results and it is important to build on these successes.

As the chart below shows, while satisfaction with the registration process is lower among 16- and 17-year-olds than the overall population (76% vs 88%), we note a significant increase since the Scottish Independence referendum (September 2014 when 16-17s were eligible for the first time) and after the introduction of online registration. This was launched in Scotland shortly after the referendum and is proving very successful, especially with young people who are more likely to need to register to vote.

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They are the most likely to support measures to modernise the system.

In July the Commission argued for further modernisation of the registration process and we invited the UK’s governments to consider automatic enrolment to improve services to voters and relieve burden on local authorities.

We asked the public what they think about this and young people were more supportive of the measure: three quarters (74%) of 16-17s think that you should be automatically added to the electoral register when you receive your National Insurance Number, against 59% of all respondents (and only 38% of those aged 65+).

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Next elections for 16-17s are in 2021

There are no further scheduled elections in which 16-17s in Scotland can vote in until 2021.

Because of the importance of first-time voting, the Commission has recommended that consideration needs to be given to how to engage young people who will reach the age of electoral majority in the next four years. The Commission will work with educational partners and councils to identify opportunities for supporting ongoing political literacy, but reforms are needed to deliver an electoral registration and voting process that meets the demands of our changing society.

All results and data tables from our public opinion surveys are available on our website (Research report library, Public opinion research).

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Why the annual canvass ensures you’re able to have a say in our democracy

You may have recently received, or will soon receive, a form asking you to check the accuracy of information held by elections staff at your local authority. This is part of a process known as the “annual canvass”, aimed at helping your local authority to keep its electoral register up to date.

What is the annual canvass?

The Electoral Registration Officer at your local authority is legally responsible for maintaining an accurate electoral register; the annual canvass, which takes place each year between 1 July and 30 November, allows for the correction of any omissions or errors.

The form is referred to as the household enquiry form. It’s not actually a registration form, but if you add new names of people living at the property that aren’t already on the form, your local authority will know to send them a separate registration form.

16 and 17 year olds can also be added to the form wherever you are in the UK, as although they may not yet be to vote, they can be added to the register in advance of their 18th birthday.

It is especially important to keep an eye out for the annual canvass form if you have recently moved into your property. Our research indicates that recent home movers are far less likely to be registered than those that have lived at the same address for a long time. Across Great Britain, only 27% of people living at their address for less than one year are registered to vote, compared to 96% of people who have been at their property for more than sixteen years.

Do I have to reply?

Yes. Electoral Registration Officers are legally obliged to undertake the annual canvass and to maintain accurate electoral registers. By completing and returning the form, you are helping them do this, but you are also ensuring that you are on the electoral register and therefore able to have your say at elections and referendums. If no response is received after three household enquiry forms are issued, the Electoral Registration Officer will make a visit to the household to confirm the details listed. If you persistently fail to respond you could be subject to a fine.  If you are not on the electoral register, you will also not be able to vote in any elections.

Why is there a box asking if I’m over 76?

The electoral register is used by HM Courts and Tribunals Service to determine members of the public eligible for jury service. Those over the age of 76 are not required to undertake jury service, and the council provides this information to identify those eligible and ineligible.

Can I register to vote at any time of the year?

Of course! You can always register to vote at any point throughout the year either by applying online via www.gov.uk/register-to-vote or by requesting a form from the Electoral Registration Officer at your local authority.

Since the introduction of individual elector registration in 2014, each person is now responsible for their own registration, rather than a designated “head of the household” as used to be the case. This means that others in your household can no longer register you, you must do this yourself.

It’s a simple process, but if you need a hand there’s lots of helpful information about registering to vote on our website www.yourvotematters.co.uk

Melanie Davidson, Head of Support and Improvement at the Electoral Commission

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Change needed on voter registration before next general election

June’s general election saw the largest ever electorate for a UK-wide poll with an estimated 46.8 million people registered to vote. The public’s willingness to engage in democracy is both clear and encouraging, but the system which supports voter registration now needs further modernisation to keep up with voters’ expectations.

Being able to register to vote online continues to be an incredibly popular service for people in Great Britain. We found that 96% of all applications were made online. But online registration still doesn’t exist in Northern Ireland. We believe that this service needs to be made available across the whole of the UK as soon as possible.

Our report makes a number of further recommendations to modernise the electoral registration system. Data that we have analysed confirms that a significant proportion of applications made during the campaign were duplicates – that is, the applicant was already registered to vote at the address stated on the application. You might wonder why this matters – but the huge number of these duplicate applications required significant input of resources by local authority staff at an already busy time.

So we want to work with the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments; and Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) across the UK to identify ways to reduce the number and administrative impact of duplicate applications as a priority. We think there needs to be a review of the messaging in public awareness campaign activities and on government and other websites signposting to the online registration service; and an improvement to the wording on the online registration service to remind applicants that they may not need to apply again.

We also want to work with the UK’s governments to incorporate more automatic checks into the online application service to highlight if someone has already submitted an application. We received lots of feedback from EROs and electors themselves that it would be helpful if it were possible for the online registration system to check whether people are already correctly registered to vote. Online check facilities are already offered to voters in other comparable democracies, including Australia, New Zealand and the Republic of Ireland, as seen below.

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But our recommendations aren’t just about cutting down on those duplicate applications and reducing waste – they are also about reflecting the way people live their lives today and making registering to vote even quicker and easier. We believe that the growing availability of online channels to access a range of services presents opportunities in this area. Some of the options that we think should be considered are improving opportunities for giving EROs access to data from other public service providers; enabling people to register to vote when using other online public services (for example when applying for a driving licence or passport); and exploring how a more integrated approach to electoral registration could feature automatic or direct enrolment processes.

The size of the registered electorate for June’s general election demonstrates that the UK’s strong tradition of democratic engagement hasn’t gone away, and reflects the hard work of all concerned. However, if we are to keep pace with modern habits and practice in a digital world, the electoral registration system must continue to evolve. There is the potential to deliver significant improvements to the accuracy and completeness of electoral registers as well as efficiencies for local authorities and the public purse.

If you would like to know more about our recommendations see our full report here. We’ll be producing further reports about the administration of the election in the autumn.

Mark Williams, Policy Manager

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5 things you need to know about voting in the UK general election

By Emma Hartley, Head of Campaigns, Electoral Commission

According to our research, 21% of eligible voters didn’t vote in the 2015 UK general election because they ran out of time*.

That’s why we need your help to ensure voters can have their say tomorrow. Share these facts to spread the word. 

1. Find out where you go to vote

Your polling station location is on your poll card. You don’t need to bring your poll card when you go to vote though they are helpful as they can save time at the polling station, especially if you are voting on someone else’s behalf.

If you’ve misplaced your poll card, don’t worry! You can find out where you go to vote or who to contact to find out by entering your postcode on our website.

If you’re in Northern Ireland, go to the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland’s website to find out where to go to vote.

2. ‘X’ marks the spot

In this election you simply put one ‘X’ next to the candidate you wish to vote for on your ballot paper. You can use the provided pencil or your own pen to mark your ballot paper.

If you aren’t sure who is standing for election in your area, you can find the candidates by entering your postcode on our website.

How do I fill in my ballot paper

3. Assistance available at polling stations

Assistance is available for anyone who requires it at the polling station. If you are a first-time voter, the polling station staff will be happy to help answer any questions you have.

If you are disabled, you can ask the Presiding Officer to help mark your ballot paper for you. You can also ask someone else you know to help you.

If you have a visual impairment, you can ask to see a large print ballot paper. You can also ask for a special voting device that allows you to vote on your own in secret.

Assistance at polling stations

4. Bring photo ID in Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland you must bring along a correct form of photo ID when you go to your polling station. Without it you won’t be able to vote.

Find out what is an accepted form of photo ID on our website.

In England, Wales and Scotland, you don’t need to bring photo ID.

5. Don’t run out of time

Polling stations are open from 7am until 10pm tomorrow. Don’t leave it too late and be one of the 21% from the last UK general election who didn’t vote because they ran out of time.

If you are in a queue at your polling station at 10pm you will be allowed to vote.

Parents are allowed to bring children with them when they go to vote at the polling station.

In England, Wales and Scotland, if you haven’t already sent back your postal ballot paper, you can hand it in at a polling station in your area tomorrow before 10pm.

You can read more about voting in the UK general election on our website.

Read this blog and now want to help your friends and family cast their vote with confidence tomorrow? Share our voter fact series on Facebook and Twitter to spread the word. 

*May 2015 post-election public opinion survey, Electoral Commission

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Crimestoppers partnership: Inspiring confidence in the handling of electoral fraud

Guest blog by Assistant Chief Constable Gareth Cann QPM, West Midlands Police

When people head to the polls to cast their vote on 8 June, they should feel able to vote freely and confident that their vote is secure.

Voters should also feel safe to report any concerns if they feel that things are not right.

This is why police forces across the UK fully support the ‘don’t stand for electoral fraud’ campaign that Crimestoppers are running jointly with the Electoral Commission, enabling people to report this type of crime anonymously.

Police forces across the UK are responsible for investigating allegations of electoral fraud and take them very seriously. In each police force there is a dedicated Single Point of Contact Officer (or SPOC) for electoral fraud who provides specialist support and advice to investigators.

As seen in recent cases that have gone to trial, the courts also treat electoral fraud as a serious offence and have handed down significant sentences in order to act as a deterrent to others. But these cases couldn’t have been brought without information provided to police officers to help identify potential offenders.

The Electoral Commission’s partnership with Crimestoppers

NPCC strongly supports the Electoral Commission’s partnership with Crimestoppers to raise awareness of anonymous reporting as we understand that not everyone will be comfortable taking their concerns directly to the police. This could be because they don’t want to reveal their identity, perhaps because they have family or other community connections to those involved. That’s why this partnership is crucial – it means that anyone can report electoral fraud in confidence.

Share information

We hope that this will mean that more people who witness electoral fraud will be able to come forward and share this information. Crimestoppers will pass the information on to officers on the right police force without revealing the identity of the person making the complaint. As well as raising awareness of how to report electoral fraud, the campaign will also help to educate people about what electoral fraud looks like and how to recognise when it is happening.

Stand up to electoral fraud and feel confident to cast your vote

We want every voter to feel confident that they can cast their vote safely. You can help us to stand up to electoral fraud and ensure that the people who might try to commit this type of offence are held accountable. Don’t let your vote be stolen and don’t let our democracy be undermined.

If you know electoral fraud is happening then please report it to directly to the police, or anonymously to Crimestoppers through their website or by calling them on 0800 555 111.

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Regulating election campaign spending

By Sir John Holmes, Chair, UK Electoral CommissionSir John Holmes

The last weeks have seen significant coverage of the issue of the regulation of political campaigning, much of it focusing on two sets of linked, but very different investigations.

The Electoral Commission undertook the first of these following the General Election of 2015. We investigated the Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative parties and found all three had failed to meet the legal requirements for their central party, national spending returns. We fined all three to varying extents, reflecting the severity of these failures and levels of cooperation during the investigatory process. These were civil penalties for the central parties’ failure to meet the requirements of what should be included in their spending returns as set out in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.

The second set of investigations were those undertaken by the police, following complaints to them from members of the public, in some instances then referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for decisions on whether to pursue prosecutions. These were criminal investigations into whether individual candidates and agents had broken the Representation of the People Act 1983 by failing to complete their local, candidate spending returns correctly. For candidates, this requires a criminal standard of proof and knowingly intending to mislead. In relation to the national party offences investigated by the Electoral Commission such intent was not required and resulted in civil fines.

This difference of approach can create confusion for the public. Indeed, we have proposed that we should regulate candidate spending as well as party spending, to ensure consistency. However, the current laws are well established and clear on what is required. It is therefore regrettable that some have treated the outcomes of the two cases as somehow incompatible or claimed that one undermines the credibility of the other.

The failings found by the Electoral Commission in the central party returns meant, in the case of the Conservatives, that some individual candidate spending returns did not include all the required spend. Indeed, the CPS indicated that this was consistent with their findings. Whether these omissions meant candidates had committed a criminal offence was then rightly investigated by the police and CPS. While the Commission referred two individuals to the police – the ‘responsible person’ at central level for both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives – we did not refer any individual candidates.

Ensuring transparency for the public was at the heart of Parliament’s decision to set the rules the Commission oversees. Our detailed, evidence-based investigatory reports are all available on our website. In each of the recent cases, the party concerned has paid the fine promptly. Since then, we have provided fresh guidance to political parties enabling them to strengthen their systems and understanding of the requirements. Compliance is preferable to investigation of apparent failures to follow the rules.

What does this mean for the current General Election campaign? We have one of the most transparent and strict systems in the world, not least on the issue of political finance. Elections in the UK are well run and highly respected internationally. It is important that the rules are overseen by an impartial Electoral Commission and that money continues not to play an excessive role in our democratic processes, not least because we know the public is concerned about this.

We will therefore be watching this election carefully too. Political campaigning is the lifeblood of any election or referendum, seeking to reach and inform voters and to engage in debate, and should not be fettered excessively or unnecessarily. Our role is not to stand in the way, but to understand campaigning activity, including the new possibilities offered by social media, and to ensure fairness and transparency about where money is spent to influence people’s votes.

We will continue to be proactive in providing advice and guidance to those we regulate, but at the end of the day we do not exist to serve them. The interests of the public are and must be at the centre of everything that we do. As well as closely monitoring the campaign, in the coming weeks we will be publishing weekly data on donations and loans to political parties. Following the election, we will audit and report on campaign spending, and on what changes to the regulatory regime may be required in order to secure and improve trust in our democratic processes. Maintaining public faith in the integrity of our elections will remain our principal goal.

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