Voters say EU Referendum was well run, but lessons should still be learnt

THE EU REFERENDUM at Manchester Town Hall and Central

THE EU REFERENDUM at Manchester Town Hall and Central

 

Over recent years, there’s been much debate as to whether democratic participation is on a downward trajectory. That certainly wasn’t the case at June’s EU Referendum. A turnout of 72.2% was the highest UK-wide turnout since the 1992 General Election and almost 6% higher than the 2015 General Election.

As Chief Counting Officer for the referendum I’m pleased that when voters cast their ballot, the overwhelming majority did so with confidence.

Undoubtedly a successful poll is one where the administration receives little comment and subsequent public debate focuses on the consequences of the result. The report we have published today confirms that through careful management of the potential risks associated with the timing and profile of the poll, we saw a referendum that was delivered without any major issues and the announcement of a clear, timely final result.

Following a complex set of polls in May where elections took place in every part of the country, the electoral community went straight into delivering the EU Referendum. Electoral Registration Officers handled 2.1 million additional applications to register to vote resulting in a record high electorate of 46,500,001. However, we now know that 38% of applications made during the campaign were duplicates, placing a huge strain on the resources of local authorities. That is why we have called on the UK Government to develop an online service allowing people to check whether they are already correctly registered to vote before they submit a new application to register.

On polling day itself, 382 Counting Officers across the UK and Gibraltar, along with over 100,000 staff members working in around 41,000 polling stations, contended with a record turnout. The hard work of these thousands of individuals should be celebrated. As a result of their professionalism, 77% of people we spoke to after the poll said they thought the referendum had been well-run.

Another vital building block of our democracy is the legislation that governs elections and referendums. This area is in need of major reform. Our report calls for important changes which have been applied to the different legal frameworks for recent referendums to be incorporated into the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, which sets out the standard framework for referendums. In addition, a generic Order for the conduct of referendums should be introduced by the Government now. This would remove ambiguity over the detailed rules for the conduct of referendums each time one of these polls is called.

Clarity and rationalisation are also the aims of the Law Commissions’ electoral review project. As a result they have also made recommendations that support the Commission’s call to have a clear, standard framework and conduct rules for referendums. Government support for these reforms would benefit future governments, electoral administrators and ultimately will give voters certainty as to how any future referendum will be conducted.

Jenny Watson, Chair of the Electoral Commission and Chief Counting Officer at the EU Referendum

 

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In this together! Partnership work boosted public awareness ahead of May 2016 elections in Wales

ballot-box-walesOn May 5 2016, over 1 million voters went to the polls for the National Assembly for Wales elections.

Over the summer we’ve been looking back to May 2016 and today we’re publishing our report on the National Assembly for Wales elections, which concludes that they were well-run, with few problems.

In this blog I want to look at the different organisations who came together to work with us in partnership ahead of the event.

  • Ahead of May 2016 we found that working in partnership with other organisations was a powerful way to help raise awareness about electoral registration. It gave us the opportunity to particularly reach those people least likely to be registered to vote. This included younger people, students, those living in rented accommodation and people with no fixed address.
  • There will always be groups of people who we don’t reach through our TV, radio and online adverts, so the partnerships work really helped us broaden our reach.
  • Working with other organisations meant that we were able to share expertise and produce joint resources with partners like RNIB Cymru, Mencap Cymru and homeless charities. These targeted resources about registering to vote and voting reached their intended audience through our partners. The Commission would not have been able to do this, as effectively, alone.
  • Activities with partners also created PR opportunities and we were able to gain additional media coverage. You may have spotted some of our giant props in the press or maybe near a famous landmark in your area. These were used by partners at various events and also made appearances on BBC Wales Today and The Sharp End on ITV Wales. We hope to use them again ahead of the local elections taking place in Wales in May 2017 – watch this space!
  • Between 1 February 2016, when our partnership activities started, and the registration deadline of 18 April, there were 96,036 applications to register made in Wales. This resulted in 46,779 additions to the register in Wales which exceeded our target of 43,500 for this campaign.
  • Our partnership work has been one of the successes of our overall public awareness work and I hope that this success continues as we move towards the 2017 local government elections in Wales.

Looking at some of the other findings in the report, it is worth noting that the combination of the National Assembly for Wales and Police and Crime Commissioner elections in Wales presented significant challenges. To meet these challenges, the Commission set up a Delivery Group which aimed to improve and streamline planning for the May 2016 elections. Membership of the group consisted of representatives from the Commission, senior Returning Officers, Welsh Government, UK Government, AEA Wales and the National Assembly for Wales. One of the main recommendations made in the report is that the Wales Delivery Group should continue to meet and assist with the successful planning of future elections.

Looking beyond Wales, the development of an online service for voters to check their registration status is an important recommendation the Commission has made to the UK Government. This will reduce the burden of processing duplicate applications on electoral administrators and make it significantly easier for voters to be able to update their details and reduce confusion about whether someone is registered or not.

Finally, I would like to thank all those who ensured that these elections in Wales were well-run. This includes the Wales Election Delivery Group, Returning Officers, elections staff, political parties, candidates, the police and voters in Wales.

Read the full report on the 2016 National Assembly for Wales elections here.

Rhydian Thomas
Head of Electoral Commission, Wales

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Why voters at the next Police and Crime Commissioner elections should be provided with more candidate information

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Today, the Commission has published its report on the 2016 Police and Crime Commissioner elections. The report also looks at the conduct and administration of local Government elections which took place across parts of England.

The first ever Police and Crime Commissioner elections took place in November 2012. At the time, the Commission was clear that because the elections were new, voters required easily accessible information that would explain who the candidates were and what they were standing for. We suggested that this should take the form of a booklet which would be delivered to households, making it easy for people to access this information. We were disappointed when the UK Government did not take on board our advice in 2012.

The 2016 Police and Crime Commissioner elections differed slightly from 2012 taking place in May when elections traditionally take place. In some areas of England they took place on the same day as local Government elections and in Wales the National Assembly for Wales election. Before the elections, the Commission continued to recommend that candidate information should be made readily available to voters; again in the form of a booklet delivered directly to households. Again, the UK Government did not follow our recommendation. As in 2012, the UK Government set up a central website where people could find information about the PCC elections and the candidates, but we think that this should not be the only route to information. There should be an approach that combines both online and offline resources which would give voters more opportunity to familiarise themselves with the elections and to get a better understanding of what they are voting for.

The findings of today’s report suggest that voters are still not getting adequate information about these elections. The majority of respondents to our research said that they did not have enough information to understand the role of the PCC in order to make an informed decision about how to vote in the elections. Almost twice as many people said that they found it difficult to access information on the PCC candidates compared with local election candidates (44% compared with 23%). In Wales, only 12% of people said it was difficult to access information about candidates at the NAW elections.

Candidates themselves were also overwhelmingly negative about the Government’s arrangements for communicating the views of candidates to voters, with 96% of those who responded to our survey saying that they were dissatisfied.

These findings underline our concern that the information needs of voters at PCC elections have not been adequately met.

Evidence from our research suggests that sending a booklet including candidate addresses to all households in each PCC area (similar to the approach adopted for elections of the Mayor of London and directly elected mayor elections, and the UK Government’s proposed approach to elections for mayors of Combined Authorities in 2017) would have a significant impact on increasing people’s levels of understanding about future PCC elections and the candidates standing. It would also ensure consistency across the different types of elections covering large electoral areas which currently use the supplementary vote electoral system.

This is why we are again calling on the UK Government to consider sending a booklet to every household at the next PCC elections, currently scheduled for May 2020, alongside the provision of information on a central website, to increase the awareness necessary for people to participate in these elections.

Katy Knock
Policy Manager

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Northern Ireland election a well-run event – but more needs to be done to improve electoral registration.

 

The 5 May 2016 saw the fifth election to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Over 1.2 million people were registered to vote ahead of the election and a total 703,744 ballots were cast on the day itself.

Our report on the administration of the election, published today, finds that the election was well run, with voters reporting high levels of confidence and satisfaction with both registration and voting processes.

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It should also be noted that, unlike in 2011 and 2014, nobody was talking about the management of the count or the time taken to complete counting in May. This is down to the significant improvements made by the Chief Electoral Officer to the count process. Changes to staff training, communications, use of new venues and changes to the verification and primary staff all contributed to a much more efficient and transparent count. It is right therefore to congratulate the Chief Electoral Officer and his staff for their hard work in delivering a successful election and we would encourage them to continue to build on this good work.

We have today also published our report into the accuracy and completeness of the electoral register in Northern Ireland. It provides a snapshot of the health of the electoral register as it stood in December 2015, and follows similar reports we published in 2008 and 2012.

It’s encouraging and pleasing to report that both the accuracy and completeness of the registers in Northern Ireland have improved since our previous study in 2012. This is in part due to a full canvass of electors taking place in autumn 2013, and also to the improvements made by the Chief Electoral Officer in how he handles and uses data available to him to manage the register.

However this report also highlights that there is still considerable work to be done to ensure that the register is as up to date and complete as possible, particularly for the next set of planned elections in 2019. While changes to the management of the register have improved some of the processes involved in continuous registration, it is still struggling to keep up with the pace of population movement. Furthermore our research shows that there has been a decline in the completeness of 16 and 17 year old attainers on the register since 2012.

Given this we welcome the upcoming introduction of online electoral registration in Northern Ireland. Its success in Great Britain has been clear since it was introduced there in 2014 and it should assist in improving the accuracy and completeness of the electoral register particularly amongst our younger voters.

However, online registration on its own will not be the solution to improving the management of the electoral register. While the Chief Electoral should continue to review and improve his procedures for managing the electoral register we believe that the long term solution should be the development of more automatic or direct enrolment processes which could have the potential to deliver more accurate and complete electoral registers more efficiently and with fewer resources.

Today we have also repeated our call to the UK Government to introduce legislation to allow the Commission to publish information on how political parties in Northern Ireland are funded. Since November 2007 political parties and regulated donees (such as elected representatives) in Northern Ireland have been required to submit details of donation and loans they have received to the Electoral Commission. As required by law this information is currently not published by us. In contrast details of donations received by candidates contesting the Northern Ireland Assembly election are publically available to view. There is clearly an appetite amongst the public to have more information on how their political parties are funded and now is the time to make progress with this.

Ann Watt
Head of Electoral Commission, Northern Ireland

 

 

 

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High levels of voter satisfaction with Scottish Parliament election but more work needed to modernise electoral process

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More than 2.2 million votes were cast on 5 May 2016 – the highest number ever recorded at a general election to the Scottish Parliament. The priority at any election is to ensure that people find it easy to participate and have confidence in the process. In our report on the election, published today, we found that nearly all voters [97%] found it easy to complete the ballot papers and more than nine in ten [92%] told us that they were confident the election was well-run.

This was the first national election at which 16 and 17 year olds were entitled to vote. Approximately 80,000 of them registered to vote at the election. Our research following the election showed that this age group had high levels of awareness and knowledge about the registration process, which is really encouraging. However it remains the case that young people are much less likely to report having voted than older voters. This means that more work needs to be done to ensure that not only are young people registered to vote but that they are also encouraged to be active participants in the democratic process.

The Electoral Management Board for Scotland (EMB) plays a key role in providing support, direction and challenge for those delivering the elections. Since it was established in 2009 the EMB has had to rely on the good will and support of local authorities subsidising it through the provision of staff resources. This cannot continue, which is why in today’s report we are also calling for the the EMB to be provided with a statutory role at all elections.

While the election was well-run we cannot afford to be complacent and assume that there is no room for improvement in the way that elections could be managed and delivered. There will be significant work ahead if we want to ensure we have a modern electoral process which keeps pace with the changing needs, and demands, of society.

However, progress is hampered by current electoral law, which is complex and fragmented and in many places out of date. A consolidated, simplified, updated and improved set of laws (made in Scotland for the administration of devolved elections) would enable elections to be run much more efficiently and cost-effectively than at present and make it easier to introduce any necessary changes. It will also ensure that the law is fit for purpose and more accessible to those who need to use it, including candidates and voters.

We continue to support the Law Commissions’ review of electoral law and urge the Scottish and UK Governments to support the work of the Law Commissions to enable the project to move on to the next stage, allowing the drafting of new law in time for it to be implemented before the Scottish Parliament elections in 2021.

The Scotland Act 2016 gives the Scottish Parliament, for the first time, responsibility for its own elections as it already has in respect to local government elections in Scotland. This includes having legislative competence over some of the functions of the Electoral Commission in respect to our role at Scottish Parliament elections. We welcome these developments and believe it is important for the Commission to be accountable to, and scrutinised by, the Scottish Parliament for its activities and spending in relation to these elections. We look forward to working with the Scottish Parliament to achieve this in the most effective and transparent way.

As I approach the end of my term as Electoral Commissioner for Scotland, it provides me with an opportunity to reflect on the significant level of work over the past nine years which has gone into developing the delivery of truly voter – focussed electoral registration services and elections. During this time the electoral community in Scotland has delivered seven major sets of elections and three important referendums as well as countless by-elections. And with the introduction of individual electoral registration they have also delivered the most significant change in electoral administration since the introduction of universal suffrage in 1928. All of this has been delivered against a backdrop of significant reductions in local authority budgets and staff resource. The fact that voters reported high levels of satisfaction at all these electoral events is a tribute to the commitment and professionalism of our Returning Officers, Electoral Registration Officers and their staff. It is important that we do not become complacent or take their efforts for granted. They deserve our thanks.

John McCormick
Electoral Commissioner, Scotland

 

 

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This year’s London elections were well run – but combined polls in 2020 are a concern.

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5 May this year saw 2.6 million valid votes cast in London, to elect a new Mayor of London, 14 Constituency members and 11 London-wide Members of the London Assembly.

Our detailed report  into the conduct and administration of these elections, published today, finds that the elections were well run, with voters reporting high levels of confidence and satisfaction with both registration and voting processes.

However, there were two serious exceptions to the otherwise smooth co-ordination of the polls which meant that some voters, candidates and campaigners did not receive the service they should be able to expect. We consider these in the report and have made recommendations to prevent them happening again.

In Barnet, an error with polling station registers led to a large number of eligible people being turned away from polling stations. This was an unacceptable failure, directly affecting the ability of voters to be able to take part in the elections. The error had its cause in simple human error but had enormous consequences for those affected, and overshadowed the otherwise successful delivery of the poll elsewhere in London.

Human error will always be a risk but processes need to be in place to ensure that all of the necessary checks are made to ensure that voters are able to cast their vote easily on polling day. To reduce the chance of this error occurring in future elections, we have strengthened our existing guidance for returning officer to include checking the content of polling station registers to ensure they are complete and correct.

The second issue related to the e-counting system used for collating the votes at the London count hub. This was the third election for Mayor of London and the GLA where this has been used.

We have previously outlined our concerns about the transparency of e-counting for candidates, agents and other observers at the count venues. These same concerns remain and we therefore continue to ask for the use of e-counting to be assessed in terms of effectiveness, value for money and risk. We recommend that the review be undertaken and available for publication and comment by summer 2017.

The use of e-counting is of a particular concern given the current combination of polls that are scheduled for Thursday 7 May 2020, including both the next set of London Mayoral and GLA elections and the next UK Parliamentary general election. This means that particular consideration will need to be given to the logistics of the count, with a mix of hand- and e-counting.

Elsewhere in England, there are scheduled PCC elections and local government elections, which include local council elections, directly elected local authority mayoral elections and combined authority mayoral elections. In Wales, there are PCC elections scheduled.

We believe that there is a significant risk that this combination of polls will increase the potential for voters to find the process confusing, and will present additional challenges for campaigners and electoral administrators. We are therefore recommending that the UK Government immediately begin the necessary analysis and consultation on the risks of holding these polls on the same day, including giving consideration to the potential for changing the date of elections. It is essential that the interests of voters are put first.

Ben Brook
Head of Performance and English Regional Teams

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The future of the Electoral Commission: Have your say!

It’s now been 15 years since the Electoral Commission was established by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act, and we’ve worked hard to adapt to some pretty substantial changes over that time. Not only has the nature of politics and campaigning shifted during the past 15 years, but there’s also been a change in the way electors expect to engage with the political process.

Now that the high-profile polls of May and June are behind us, we have seized the opportunity to take stock and reflect on what the role of the Commission might or could be in the future.

We have therefore started conducting a full strategic review of what we do, why we do it and how we deliver our work to help us strive to be a world class public sector organisation that innovates and leads. By achieving this, we can ensure that voters continue to have trust and confidence in our electoral processes and our party funding regime for the next 15 years and beyond.

We are considering questions around the future of voting, including what voting could look like in 2020, how we could move toward this and how we can incorporate changes in technology to fit in with the delivery of elections.

We would like to hear from as many of you as possible to get your thoughts on these three specific questions:

  1. Thinking about your engagement with elections, what are your biggest risks, challenges and opportunities?
  2. Thinking about voter’s involvement in elections, what do you think voter’s priorities will be by 2020?
  3. Identify three areas where you think the Electoral Commission should be leading the development of ideas and/or policy in the next five years.

You can provide your answers and thoughts either through our online survey or by sending an email to strategicreview@electoralcommission.org.uk .

The consultation period runs until 2 September 2016. Following this, we’ll be producing a consultation report.  If you have any further comments and questions regarding the strategic review, please contact us on the email address above.

Claire Bassett, Chief Executive

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