The “hidden” costs of electoral law


There are costs associated with legislation. This is true in any area of law. The processes of creating legislation, administering and applying the law once it has been passed and initiating legal proceedings all have associated costs, be that financial or otherwise.

In electoral law this is also true. However with electoral law there are also added costs that could be reduced or removed completely if the voluminous, complex and fragmented nature of the law surrounding elections in the UK were to be simplified and modernised.

The Law Commissions of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are currently working on reforms to do just that. Along with the Association of Electoral Administrators, we asked the Law Commissions to carry out this project of electoral law reform and we strongly support its aims. The project will make it easier both to participate in elections and to administer them.

With this in mind, we have now produced a report looking at the “hidden costs” that are incurred simply because electoral law is currently in such poor shape.

Our report focuses on the following four areas:

The costs involved in making electoral legislation

Costs are incurred unnecessarily as a result of changing or adding to a body of law that is already overly complex and voluminous. By streamlining the current law any cost implications of changing or making new law would be reduced.

The costs involved in administering elections

The current state of electoral law, especially its volume (there are hundreds of different Acts, regulations and orders) and its highly prescriptive and complex requirements, makes administering elections a time-consuming, difficult task. As a result electoral administrators require considerable technical support, including detailed training and legal advice which results in further administrative costs. Again these costs could be reduced by the simplification of the legal framework that governs elections.

The costs of being involved in any legal processes arising from elections

Large burdens are placed on the time of police, prosecutors, electoral administrators, candidates, parties and others by their involvement in the legal processes arising from elections. Simplifying and clarifying the law would make it easier to understand and help those that need to use it to do their jobs and minimise costs.

The costs of standing for elections as a candidate

More specific costs also apply to candidates who wish to stand for election. The burden of the current deposits scheme and the costs associated with interpreting the law on standing for election may discourage people from standing for election.

Our report concludes that the Law Commissions’ ongoing work to reform electoral law in the UK could lead to a significant reduction of these types of costs in the system, which would ultimately be beneficial to the many individuals and organisations involved in the electoral process.

The Electoral Commission continues to support the ongoing work of the Law Commissions’ in reviewing electoral law in the UK. More information on the Law Commissions’ review can be found here.

Louise Footner
Head of Legal


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