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.