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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Living overseas? Don’t miss out on having your say in the UK general election

By Emma Hartley, Head of Campaigns, UK Electoral Commission

Lots of UK citizens who live overseas don’t know that they may be able to vote in the general election on 8 June 2017.

With the election just around the corner, it’s important that you ensure you’re registered to vote as soon as possible.

To register as an overseas voter you must have been registered to vote in the UK in the last 15 years. If you were too young when you left the UK to have been registered, then you can register as an overseas voter if your parents (or guardians) were registered in the UK in the last 15 years.

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You can register to vote online now at gov.uk/register-to-vote.

If you were registered for the EU referendum and you haven’t been asked to renew your registration then you do not need to re-register to vote in the UK general election. If you have been asked to renew your registration and haven’t yet done so, make sure you renew as soon as possible.

If you’re unsure, you can contact your local authority in the UK. Find their details on our yourvotematters.co.uk website.

Once registered, we strongly encourage you to apply to vote by proxy, which means appointing somebody you trust in the UK to vote on your behalf. You can download an application form on yourvotematters.co.uk.

We know overseas voters find it challenging to apply for, receive, complete and return their postal votes in time to have their say. That’s why you should consider whether a proxy vote might be more convenient. 

If you’re registered to vote in Northern Ireland as an overseas voter, you are unable to vote by post as ballot papers cannot be sent to an address outside of the UK. So you must apply to vote by proxy by 5pm on Thursday 18 May.

Don’t miss out! Make sure you’re ready to vote today.

Share this blog to ensure your friends and family can have their say in the UK general election this June. Pass the message on that #YourVoteMatters!

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The Commission and the 2017 UK General Election

AV4A0719The announcement of the General Election on 8 June came before the dust had settled finally on some aspects of the regulation of the 2015 campaign. That is the nature of democratic politics. In any case, the Electoral Commission had contingency plans in place. We are already playing our part in helping local authorities and others to make sure the electoral process runs smoothly. We will be working to ensure that candidate and party campaigning is conducted according to the rules and regulations set by Parliament under the Representation of the People Act 1983 and most recently in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act of 2000 – the Act which set up the Commission.

We are also responsible for the campaign to drive voter registration ahead of the poll. This will begin on 8 May and lead up to the registration deadline on Monday 22 May. There will be the usual mixture of advertising and work with partners such as Facebook. We aim to reach both a general audience and under-registered groups, such as young people, students and home-movers. The recent run of electoral events has increased levels of registration, but there is no room for complacency. We will continue to encourage all those eligible and not already on the electoral roll to register.

Our electoral system has major strengths. The results of elections are rarely contested. The processes of registering voters, and casting and counting votes, are tried and tested, and carried out with great transparency. There are of course improvements which could be made, in areas like automatic registration and better protection against fraud. The Electoral Commission has made many such recommendations over the years. We will go on doing so where we see a strong case for change. But the system is certainly not broken.

Similarly we have one of the most transparent regimes in the world governing donations to political parties and their spending during election campaigns. In this area too there is scope for improvement, and the Commission has made recommendations accordingly. Some have been adopted, though others remain on the table. We will continue to seek further refinements in the future. In particular the nature of campaigns is changing as the digital age advances. Money is being spent in different ways, and we need to be sure that this is properly reported.

Voters can therefore be sure that we will be monitoring the current campaign closely. We will not hesitate to intervene if we think that the rules and regulations are being broken, or are about to be. We will also be looking afterwards with a careful eye at the spending returns by the parties and others to make sure that the rules were indeed followed. We are issuing updated guidance to the parties before the campaign proper starts on what and how they should report, and will be talking to the main players to reduce the scope for misunderstandings. We hope this will avoid the need for investigations and fines of the kind we saw after the 2015 General Election.

We will be paying particular attention to the breakdown of spending between parties on the national level and candidates in individual constituencies. We will also be alert to the ways in which social media and other digital tools are being used. We do not want to restrict normal campaigning in any way. Campaigning is the life blood of any election. But we are aware that new techniques are always being tried. We need to keep up to make sure that the fairness of the overall process is not undermined.

Another area of focus will be the activities of non-party campaigners. They must register with us if between 9 June last year and polling day on 8 June this year they have or are likely to spend more than £20,000 in England and more than £10,000 in Scotland, Wales and NI. Once more, the aim is not to stop this kind of campaigning, but simply to make sure that it is transparent.

At the Commission we are confident that this election will be well-run and anticipate it will be fairly fought, even if the arguments between the parties become fierce at times. But we are also aware that we can never take this for granted. The price of democracy is eternal vigilance. That is why we need to be alert and active during and after the campaign. Public confidence in our democracy and our electoral system must not be allowed to falter.

Sir John Holmes, Chair

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Electoral fraud: high stakes highlighted in new report

2016 saw an unprecedented number of polls with important elections held across the whole of the UK in May, a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU in June, and numerous parliamentary by-elections.

We have recently published data on allegations of electoral fraud and their outcomes reported by the police during 2016 highlighting the relatively low levels of fraud and that there were no large-scale cases of proven electoral fraud.

Most importantly our report demonstrates that we can be confident that allegations of electoral fraud are taken seriously. Significant sentences will be imposed when electoral law is broken, and those responsible for electoral fraud can face jail.

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The report sets out those cases which resulted in successful prosecutions and or police cautions, including two which led to significant punishments for offenders.

  • A successfully elected local government candidate was found guilty of submitting a fraudulent electoral registration application and nomination form, and was sentenced to two months in prison and disqualified from standing for election for five years.
  • A voter at the EU referendum pleaded guilty to voting twice at the same polling station, and was given a Community Payback Order of 300 hours and disqualified from standing for election for five years.

The data shows that 2016 saw an increase in the proportion of cases which related to voting offences, including personation at polling stations, in comparison to other types of electoral offence, and at the same time a reduction in the proportion of cases which relate to electoral registration offences, with a more significant reduction in 2015 and 2016.

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We look forward to continuing to support and work with electoral administrators and police forces ahead of the polls this May and in future years, and to further address vulnerabilities in our electoral systems and the levels of public concern in this area, particularly in relation to levels of unreported fraud.

We will also work closely with the Government and other partners including the UK’s Law Commissions to identify how best to update and strengthen electoral offences, penalties and the legal challenge process, in order to ensure voter confidence in the integrity of the UK electoral system.

If you want to read the full report and see all of our other recommendations, it is available on our website.

Katy Knock
Policy Manager

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