Last week I spoke at the SOLACE elections conference about the future of elections and registration. I was heartened to see a room full of local authority leaders unwavering in their commitment to delivering the best service to voters against a backdrop where all of us in the electoral community face financial pressures.
At the end of last year, the Minister for the Constitution outlined his vision for transforming the electoral registration process. We support his commitment and we will lead and facilitate the debate about strategic and innovative ways in which electoral registration could be simplified.
It may not be a buzzword, but ‘data’ – better use of it – could make things easier for Electoral Registration Officers (EROs). Local authorities hold a wealth of data that could be used to identify local residents yet to register to vote. Better use data to verify the identity of potential electors without requiring them to provide additional information will mean less back and forth with an elector over documents. Also, EROs need better access to national data to tell them who’s moving in and out of their areas.
We are going to work with the Cabinet Office, the Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA) and others to develop ‘The Academy’. This is part of the Minister’s vision. We think this could take a virtual form and would be the platform where all of us involved in electoral registration can share best practice that ultimately enables costs to come down, whist maintaining high standards of service.
Another area that should come under review is how to reduce the cost of running elections. Voters increasingly deal with local authorities via email and text. We should look at whether there are better and cheaper ways to send people the information they need to take part in an election. For example, would sending an email or text on the day before polling reminding voters of the election work better than sending a poll card a couple of weeks before the election?
Of course it would be easier to identify savings in the cost of elections if we knew exactly how much they cost to run. Following the 2011 referendum on the Parliamentary Voting System, we published a detailed report on costs. We have been calling on the UK Government to publish the costs of the 2009 and 2014 European elections; the 2010 and 2015 General Elections; and the 2012 Police and Crime Commissioner elections, but they have yet to do so. We’ve also called on the Scottish Government to publish detailed costs for the Scottish Independence Referendum. Once these costs are made public, it will be possible to identify where savings can be made, identify areas of best practice to learn from and where the hidden costs are.
Talking of hidden costs, we will be referring to the Law Commissions’ review of electoral law increasingly over the coming weeks and months. They will imminently be publishing recommendations that have the potential to revolutionise the way elections are held in this country. Simplifying the legislation so that it’s fit for the 21st Century will reduce the burdens placed on electoral administrators and ultimately costs. The review has the unanimous support of the electoral community and we would like to see the UK Government give its swift approval for the review so that it can move onto the next stage – drafting legislation to be in place for the 2020 General Election.
In the meantime this year will be extremely busy for all of us in the electoral community with elections taking place across the country on 5 May and the potential for an EU Referendum in 2016. We must continue to work closely together in order to deliver well-run polls that command the confidence of voters.
Electoral Commission Chief Executive