Our commitment to working bilingually in Wales

By Sioned Wyn, Welsh Language Adviser, Electoral Commission

To celebrate International Translation Day our Welsh Language Adviser, Sioned introduces the history of the Welsh language and why we work bilingually in Wales…

Shwmae (Hi)! I’ve been the Commission’s Welsh Language Adviser (Cynghorydd yr Iaith Gymraeg) since May 2013. Welsh is my first language, and it’s the only language I speak with my family and most of my friends. I’m not sure what would happen if I tried speaking in English with my Mamgu (Grandmother)!

You may be surprised to find out that Welsh is the oldest living language in Europe, dating back to the 6th century. Its roots are in the Brittonic language, which was spoken as far north as Scotland. While these days you’re not likely to hear a lot of Welsh spoken among the Scots, you can still see some traces of it in place names across Scotland, like Edinburgh.

Today Welsh is an official language in Wales. In fact, 27.8% of people in Wales are able to speak Welsh and all children up to the age of 16 learn the Welsh language in school, whether they attend a Welsh or English medium school.

The aim of the 2011 Welsh Language (Wales) Measure, where the Welsh language standards come from, is to make it easier for Welsh speakers in Wales to live their life in Welsh. The standards mean people have the right to ensure the services they receive from public bodies, such as the Commission and local authorities, are available in Welsh to them if they wish. It also follows on that making sure that all children in Wales learn Welsh is a little pointless if they don’t have any chance to speak it socially and in their day to day lives.

The standards vary between each organisation, depending on the work they do, and who their stakeholders are. But there is a common thread of equality – ensuring that people in Wales can use our services, documents and see our campaigns in the language of their choice.

Campaign

Here at the Commission we’re committed to ensuring that all communication with people in Wales is done bilingually in Welsh and English in line with the Welsh language standards. In practice, this means that we translate documents from English into Welsh for our Welsh audiences. Since March this year alone we’ve translated around 300,000 words!

The process of translation itself is not as simple as it may seem. It’s about creating new text and making sure that whatever the reader is reading, they believe it was written in that language. It takes time to consider sentence structure (which is very different in Welsh and English), and ensuring that the tone and feeling of the piece is carried over to the translated language.

Our commitment means that Welsh speakers can call us to ask about registering or voting and can contact us on social media through @ElectoralWales, @DyBleidlaisDi or Facebook.

Welsh is a part of who I am, and I’m proud to ensure that my fellow Welsh speakers can get the information they need to exercise their democratic right in the language they choose.

Get in touch with us on Twitter or email to get more info about the Welsh language standards.

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Did the Electoral Commission really suggest banning people from voting?

By Sir John Holmes, Chair of the Electoral Commission

Some recent media reports have suggested the Electoral Commission was calling for ‘social media trolls’ to be banned from voting in our response to the current  Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL) inquiry into intimidation of Parliamentary candidates . Although the resulting debate has been helpful in highlighting that current electoral law struggles to reflect 21st century realities, many of the headlines made rather more of what we said than was reasonable or justified.

We have not simply recommended that internet trolls, or anybody else, should lose their rights to vote. Nor do we seek to, or think people would want us to, become a ‘Truth Commission’, deciding what can and can’t be said in election campaigns. As some commentators were quick to point out this week, that would be a dangerous road down which to embark. I couldn’t agree more.

What we did point out was that some existing election offences already carry special consequences for those found guilty of them, including removal from the electoral register or preventing them from voting for up to five years. That this is so little understood is a good indication of just how outdated and irrelevant much of the decades or centuries old legislation around elections is today.

We went on to suggest that it would be worth considering, in looking at any new legislation, whether some similar special consequences could be a deterrent in today’s circumstances. Whether they really would be appropriate would obviously be a question for the legal experts in the first place and then for Parliament. We were not attempting to take a view either way.

Our broader position, though, is clear: the UK’s strong tradition of free elections is an essential part of a healthy democracy, and people should be able to stand for election and campaign without fear of abuse or intimidation. However, now there is evidence that this is not always the case, the fact that many offences in electoral law have not been reviewed or updated since they were first created in the 19th century does not help matters, to say the least.

As a first step, we continue to urge the UK’s governments to implement proposals made last year by the UK’s Law Commissions to make it easier for everyone to understand and comply with election laws, and for the police and prosecutors to enforce them.

Our submission highlighted the example of section 115 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, which specifies an offence of exerting undue influence on voters (for example, by threatening or using violence) – this is a particularly complex provision that the Law Commission proposes to reform. There is currently no similar offence relating to the intimidation of candidates.

It may be that there is no need for a new offence as the general criminal law might be sufficient. There are of course already laws making it a criminal offence to threaten, harass or abuse anyone, or to make racist, homophobic or sexist comments online. The CSPL should, and no doubt will, seek expert advice from police forces and prosecutors to determine whether any extra deterrent would be proportionate or useful when it comes to election candidates and campaigners.

We will watch the review with interest and I look forward to reading the final report. But whatever the Committee recommends ultimately, it is clear that modernisation of our electoral laws is overdue. While there is of course much else to keep it busy, we believe this should rank highly amongst the Government’s priorities.

You can read our full response to the Committee on our website here.

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How we set up a campaign in 12 working days

By Emma Hartley, Head of Campaigns, Electoral Commission

Today we have published our evaluation of the voter registration campaign we ran for the snap UK general election in June, but we also wanted to share some reflections on how we got a UK-wide campaign up and running quickly. 

Here is the story of how we went from election announcement to campaign launch in just 12 working days…

General election campaign blog - team image small

Electoral Commission campaigns team

18 April 2017: It’s a quiet Tuesday in the Electoral Commission campaigns team. We’re back in after the Easter break having just finished our voter registration campaign ahead of the 4 May local elections.

It’s 11am and The Prime Minister is making an unexpected announcement.

There will be a UK general election on 8 June. Seven weeks and two days from today.

The registration deadline will be 22 May, giving us just under five weeks to plan and execute a campaign. We arranged a conference call with our ad agencies before the Prime Minister finished her speech, kicking off the 12 working days to launch.

The campaign

With so little time to prepare we couldn’t re-think everything so we carried over tried-and-tested elements from previous campaigns, looking for quick ways to keep things fresh. The fact we had carried out thorough evaluations in the wake of our previous campaigns meant we had a really good idea of what would work.

Our focus was on cutting through to under-registered audiences including students and young people, recent home movers, UK citizens living overseas and armed forces personnel.

A standalone UK general election has the advantage of being relatively simple to communicate: people generally know how to vote and are keen to register as long as they know they need to do so. We used the unexpected nature of the poll to our advantage, pushing the importance of registering to vote in the limited time left.

We updated our existing TV ad – it would have been impossible to record a new one in two weeks. We also recorded two new radio ads for students and home movers and created animated GIFs to use on social media.

But our activity didn’t end with the registration deadline. From 23 May onwards we were focused on making sure people had the information they needed to cast their vote, through partners and stakeholders as well as our own social media channels.

Beyond the Electoral Commission

Our advertising was bolstered by social media partnerships with Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Nextdoor, as well as PR work around key campaign milestones, getting us crucial additional publicity.

We called on our well-established network of local and central government, charities, corporate and voluntary organisations. We communicated through regular editions of Roll Call, our public awareness newsletter, and quickly produced resources for them to use, saving time for organisations across the country.

Stakeholder image

The Cabinet Office mobilised support across government departments to share registration messaging on social media and intranet channels. They also put registration reminders across gov.uk including at the end of passport and driving license applications. The Ministry of Defence and Foreign and Commonwealth Office in particular helped us access channels to reach armed forces personnel and UK citizens living overseas.

Through our partnership with Democracy Club we provided candidate and polling station information on our Your Vote Matters website. Our postcode lookup, which gave users details of candidates, how to contact their local authority, and in many cases their polling station, was used 390,000 times from 23 May.

How we worked

Every member of the team led a work stream, with daily update meetings keeping us on track.

With the amount of work we had to do we dived straight in to help each other out, fuelled by copious amounts of sugary snacks. We were collaborative in talking through issues since we didn’t have a long time to ponder the big decisions so it was important for us to put our heads together.

After a couple of intense weeks we were able to launch our overseas campaign on 28 April and our UK campaign on 8 May, which must be some kind of record.

What we know was a record was the size of the electorate – the biggest ever for a UK-wide poll with an estimated 46.8 million people able to vote.

Thank you to everyone who played a part in delivering this campaign at short notice – we couldn’t have done it without you.

You can read more information about our campaign on our website.

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Making your first time count

By Davide Tiberti, Research and Evaluation Manager at the Electoral Commission

High turnout is often regarded as an indicator of healthy democracies. Despite the surge at the last UK Parliamentary general election, turnout among young people in the UK remains low and some academics have highlighted how youth disengagement can generate a vicious circle: they argue that politicians can afford to neglect the interests of non-voters who in turn can feel let down and further disaffection sets in.

Several studies have shown the importance of first time voting, as evidence indicates that young citizens who fail to vote the first time they become eligible are less likely to vote throughout their lives.

This was a key driver behind the work of the Commission to promote registration and voting at the May 2017 elections in Scotland, where 16- and 17-year-olds were voting for the first time in a Scotland-wide set of council elections.

As part of our post-polls evaluation work, we also focused our attention on understanding this audience better by boosting the sample of 16-17s in our survey to find out what they think. The findings provide interesting insight into their views and electoral behavior.

What we know about the voting attitudes of 16- and 17-year-olds

Turnout among 16-17s is likely to have been in line with under 34s but lower than among over 35s.

While our public opinion data is not designed to  provide  turnout estimates by age group, we can use the findings in a comparative context to provide an indication of how turnout might have varied between age groups.

Our results suggest that turnout among 16-17s is likely to have been similar to that among 18-34s, but significantly lower than among those aged over 35: 51% of 16-17s claimed to have voted against 85% of those aged 55+.

Pic 1

They are motivated by the desire to express their view and create change rather than by civic duty.

Our surveys have constantly shown how younger people tend to be less likely than older age groups to say that civic duty motivate them to vote. Civic responsibility reasons still remain the top motivation for voting for all age groups – even the younger ones – except 16-17s whose most common reason was ‘to express a view’.

Significantly higher than all other age groups, 20% said they voted ‘to help create a change’.

Pic 2They use social media to access information on candidates but are the most likely to say they didn’t get enough information.

Two in five 16-17s (40%) disagreed with the statement ‘I had enough information on candidates to be able to make an informed decision in the Scottish Council Elections’, significantly more than 35-54s (26%) and 55+ (17%).

Among those 16-17s who agreed with that statement (52%), 33% said they access information on candidates on social media: this is the most popular channel for this age cohort while for the 18+ it remains leaflets/flyers from parties and candidates.

Family and friends have a strong influence on their propensity to turnout.

Interestingly, as we saw at the Scottish Parliament elections in 2016, participation by family and friends has a strong influence on turnout among 16-17s. Of those who voted in May, 95% said that their parents/guardians had voted and 50% said that ‘most of my friends voted’. Among those who did not turn out, only 50% of parents/guardian and 10% of ‘most friends’ voted.

Pic 3

They are less likely to be satisfied with the procedures for both registering and voting.

Our survey also shows that 16-17s year olds are less satisfied than the overall population when it comes to the procedure for voting (64% vs. 78%) and registering (76% vs. 88%). This is probably due to turnout and experience as first-time voters may need some time to become familiar with the process.

Nonetheless, this also highlights the need for the system to keep up with the changing expectations that society has of public services. Concerning electoral registration for example, technology and measures introduced over the last few years have brought positive results and it is important to build on these successes.

As the chart below shows, while satisfaction with the registration process is lower among 16- and 17-year-olds than the overall population (76% vs 88%), we note a significant increase since the Scottish Independence referendum (September 2014 when 16-17s were eligible for the first time) and after the introduction of online registration. This was launched in Scotland shortly after the referendum and is proving very successful, especially with young people who are more likely to need to register to vote.

Pic 4

They are the most likely to support measures to modernise the system.

In July the Commission argued for further modernisation of the registration process and we invited the UK’s governments to consider automatic enrolment to improve services to voters and relieve burden on local authorities.

We asked the public what they think about this and young people were more supportive of the measure: three quarters (74%) of 16-17s think that you should be automatically added to the electoral register when you receive your National Insurance Number, against 59% of all respondents (and only 38% of those aged 65+).

Pic 5

Next elections for 16-17s are in 2021

There are no further scheduled elections in which 16-17s in Scotland can vote in until 2021.

Because of the importance of first-time voting, the Commission has recommended that consideration needs to be given to how to engage young people who will reach the age of electoral majority in the next four years. The Commission will work with educational partners and councils to identify opportunities for supporting ongoing political literacy, but reforms are needed to deliver an electoral registration and voting process that meets the demands of our changing society.

All results and data tables from our public opinion surveys are available on our website (Research report library, Public opinion research).

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Why the annual canvass ensures you’re able to have a say in our democracy

You may have recently received, or will soon receive, a form asking you to check the accuracy of information held by elections staff at your local authority. This is part of a process known as the “annual canvass”, aimed at helping your local authority to keep its electoral register up to date.

What is the annual canvass?

The Electoral Registration Officer at your local authority is legally responsible for maintaining an accurate electoral register; the annual canvass, which takes place each year between 1 July and 30 November, allows for the correction of any omissions or errors.

The form is referred to as the household enquiry form. It’s not actually a registration form, but if you add new names of people living at the property that aren’t already on the form, your local authority will know to send them a separate registration form.

16 and 17 year olds can also be added to the form wherever you are in the UK, as although they may not yet be to vote, they can be added to the register in advance of their 18th birthday.

It is especially important to keep an eye out for the annual canvass form if you have recently moved into your property. Our research indicates that recent home movers are far less likely to be registered than those that have lived at the same address for a long time. Across Great Britain, only 27% of people living at their address for less than one year are registered to vote, compared to 96% of people who have been at their property for more than sixteen years.

Do I have to reply?

Yes. Electoral Registration Officers are legally obliged to undertake the annual canvass and to maintain accurate electoral registers. By completing and returning the form, you are helping them do this, but you are also ensuring that you are on the electoral register and therefore able to have your say at elections and referendums. If no response is received after three household enquiry forms are issued, the Electoral Registration Officer will make a visit to the household to confirm the details listed. If you persistently fail to respond you could be subject to a fine.  If you are not on the electoral register, you will also not be able to vote in any elections.

Why is there a box asking if I’m over 76?

The electoral register is used by HM Courts and Tribunals Service to determine members of the public eligible for jury service. Those over the age of 76 are not required to undertake jury service, and the council provides this information to identify those eligible and ineligible.

Can I register to vote at any time of the year?

Of course! You can always register to vote at any point throughout the year either by applying online via www.gov.uk/register-to-vote or by requesting a form from the Electoral Registration Officer at your local authority.

Since the introduction of individual elector registration in 2014, each person is now responsible for their own registration, rather than a designated “head of the household” as used to be the case. This means that others in your household can no longer register you, you must do this yourself.

It’s a simple process, but if you need a hand there’s lots of helpful information about registering to vote on our website www.yourvotematters.co.uk

Melanie Davidson, Head of Support and Improvement at the Electoral Commission

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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.

blog reg.png

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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