Don’t be left in the background – get #ReadyToVote

With just one week to go, find out how you can ensure young people across Scotland are #ReadyToVote for the Scottish council elections this May…

By Sarah Mackie, Senior Officer, Electoral Commission Scotland

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“The opportunity to vote is a privilege that many across the world are denied. It is one of the best methods to be heard and to be involved in decision-making. Voting puts us right at the forefront of politics, instead of leaving us in the background.

Registering to vote doesn’t take long. Take a few moments out of your day to make an impact on the world around you,” says Brian.

The Scottish council elections on Thursday 4 May are the first Scotland-wide council elections in which 16- and 17-year-olds can vote.

The elections will decide who represents you in your local council and who makes decisions on the provision of local services, such as education, housing and public transport.

Brian and other teens like him across Scotland want to have their say. But if they aren’t registered, they can’t vote.

You can help young people in Scotland get #ReadyToVote by running a registration event – or encouraging your networks to host an event – at your school, youth centre or college from Wednesday 1 March, which is #ReadyToVote day.

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Don’t worry, we’ve produced a toolkit which includes everything required to take part. Our toolkit includes resources to promote the event, images to use on social media, factsheets and activities to do with students.

Download your toolkit now

You can also get involved by promoting #ReadyToVote on social media. Our toolkit includes lots of graphic images you can share to get the word out there.

With just one week to go until #ReadyToVote, we have over 165 schools from 26 council areas across Scotland already signed up to take part. Sign up now!

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Help us make the invisible; visible

The elections on Thursday 4 May are just around the corner. Yet millions remain without a voice. Read this blog to find out how you can help change that…

By Ashleigh Yardy, Senior Communications Officer, Electoral Commission

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Around eight million people in Great Britain do not have a voice in matters that affect them. Effectively, they are invisible.

Why? Because they aren’t correctly registered to vote.

Some groups of people remain less likely to be registered than others. Young people, home movers and renters, students and BME communities continue to top the invisible list. Did you know that one in three 18-24-year-olds are not registered? Or that only 27% of people who’ve lived at their place for up to a year are on the electoral roll?

If you believe eight million without their democratic right to vote is far too many, then help us change it.

The local elections on Thursday 4 May will decide who represents you in your local council and who makes decisions on the provision of local services, such as education, housing and public transport. That’s why the main message of our campaign is simple; the elections are #OnYourDoorstep.

We’ve created a range of resources to encourage participation in the local elections across Scotland, Wales and England. You can download posters, banners, infographics, a guide that explains it all and much more from our website.

Download your resources now

It’s easy. You can share a post from our Facebook page or RT us or use one of our resources to create your own message. Print a poster and stick it up in your staff kitchen – don’t forget; waiting for the kettle to boil is the perfect time to register online. Blog about it or write a post for your intranet. We can all do something to spread the word.

We work with a range of public, private and voluntary organisations to reach those who are least likely to be registered to vote. Ahead of the May 2016 elections, we worked with organisations such as Shelter Scotland, RNIB Cyrmu and The Rainbow Project to promote voter registration. If your organisation is interested in getting involved, find out more on our partnerships page.

Remember to tell your friends, your family, your neighbours, your colleagues. Ensure the people who matter to you can have their say on Thursday 4 May.

From everyone here at the Electoral Commission, thank you for your support.

Download our resources to promote participation in the May 2017 elections now.

Note: 1 in 6 people not correctly registered in Great Britain is an estimated number of people that are not registered or are incorrectly registered as a proportion of the estimated eligible voting population (calculated from ONS population estimates). You can read more in our report on The December 2015 electoral registers in Great Britain.

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Helping voters find out where to vote

At today’s AEA conference, our Chief Executive Claire Bassett talked about our partnership with Democracy Club and how local authorities can get involved to help voters find better information about elections online.

Finding polling stations online

We are supporting Democracy Club’s work to improve digital services around elections. We believe that in this day and age, it is only right that voters expect to be able to find information – including the location of their polling station – online.

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Voting at a polling station

Who are Democracy Club?

I’ll hand over to Joe Mitchell at Democracy Club to explain…

Democracy Club is a voluntary, non-partisan organisation that aims to make the process of democracy better for everyone. We build digital services, aggregate and clean data, manage crowdsourcing and partnerships to make this happen.

Our services have been used by 1.4m people to get better informed before elections; our data has been used by the likes of Google, Buzzfeed, the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph.

One of the tools we provide is an online polling station finder.

We will be providing the same service for the May 2017 elections (and beyond). We believe that if a voter wants to find their polling station, it is better both for them and the local council if they can do it online.

We just need data from local authorities to make it happen. If you share your data, voters in your area will be able find this information online, rather than calling you!

Find out more at https://democracyclub.org.uk/projects/polling-stations/

How is the Electoral Commission involved?

Our aim is to put voters first. From our early conversations with Democracy Club, it was clear that their work is of real benefit to voters

This is not a partnership we entered into lightly. We initially had many of the same questions we know administrators have had, such as:

Q. What if a polling station changes?

Joe: One of the advantages of digital data is that it is easier to update than paper polling cards. If you publish to a web address, we will regularly check the address. So all you need to do is ensure that when the data changes, you republish to the same web address. Alternatively, you can email us with the updates and we will make the changes as soon as possible – usually within hours)

Q. How will voters be given the correct polling station, as opposed to simply the nearest one?

Joe: Where data is of a good standard, this is mitigated entirely. It’s vital that councils either publish the districts as well as the stations, or alternatively, publish the entire Address-to-Polling-Station lookup table, so that voters are matched correctly. If we only get a list of polling station locations, there’s nothing we can do with that data, so voters will have to call their council.

Our conversations with Democracy Club quickly answered our questions – their expertise was obvious.

For polls in 2016, we directed users of our About my Vote website to Democracy Club’s websites in order to help voters find the answer to two common questions – who are the candidates and where is my polling station?

This worked well so now we are looking to take this one step further. Voters will be able to find information directly on our website.

We believe this will not only help voters but will also reduce the burden on administrators who might otherwise be fielding calls – one administrator recently told us they took over 580 calls on polling day, with calls lasting two minutes on average.

Making it happen

I would urge all elections staff to ask the question: “would voters in my area want find their polling station online?” If the answer is “yes”, sharing your polling station data with Democracy Club is the best way to make it happen.

Not only will your voters be able to find this on our website but you will also be able to have a polling station finder on your own site.

It does not require significant additional work for you. We know that every local authority’s situation is different and that data will be held in different ways – but it is highly likely that the data you hold can be used to provide this service. No personal data is required.

This is a service that we hope many local authorities will use in May – don’t miss out.

Simply get in touch with Democracy Club, or if you would prefer, the Commission, with any questions.

Emma Hartley, Head of Campaigns

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The results of our latest survey are in- here’s what the public thinks about voting.

The Electoral Commission aims to put voters’ interests at the centre of everything we do. To achieve this, it’s essential to find out how people think and feel about the electoral process. Like many organisations, we use public opinion research to help us do this.

We conduct a public opinion survey after every poll held in order to monitor the experience of participating in specific elections. In addition, we conduct the ‘Winter Tracker’, an annual UK-wide survey, every December. This covers a range of electoral issues and is designed to provide an overview of public sentiment towards the process of voting and democracy in the UK more broadly.

After the significant polls of 2016, the results this year show that confidence in and satisfaction with the system overall have improved. Three quarters (76%) are confident that elections are well run in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, compared to 66% in 2015. In line with this, 77% said that they are satisfied with the process of voting at elections, up from 68% in 2015.

As might be expected, those that participate in the electoral process tend to have a more positive view of it than those that do not.  Those that say they ‘always vote’ are significantly more likely to say that they are confident that elections are well run (82%) than those that say they ‘sometimes vote’ (62%) and never vote (48%).

The overall increase in satisfaction and confidence could in part be explained by the high levels of electoral engagement witnessed in 2016, where much of the UK electorate had the opportunity to cast their vote in May and then again in June. Indeed, June’s referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union saw the highest UK turnout since 1992.

Encouragingly, a year after the end of the transition to individual electoral registration (IER), the results show that views on registering to vote are also more positive. Levels of satisfaction with the system have increased to 80%, up from 75% in 2015. The majority (73%) also feel confident that the personal details they provide in order to register vote are held securely, up from 68% in 2015.

This being said, it is clear that improvements can be made. Satisfaction with the registration system is still lowest among younger age groups, those which our research consistently identifies as the least likely to be registered. 63% of 18-24s (16-24s in Scotland) and 77% of 25-34s say they are satisfied with the registration system, this compares with 89% among over 65s.

Despite this difference in satisfaction levels, there is a broad consensus across age groups about what can be done to improve the registration system. More than half (56%) indicate that a more ‘direct’ form of registration, either automatically registering people when they reach voting age (36%) or updating an entry when someone moves home (20%) would make them more satisfied. This makes sense; we know that recently moving house is one of the key reasons for people not being registered.

For a quarter (24%) the ability to check online if you are registered is most appealing. This is unsurprising given how many people contacted us in the run up to the referendum attempting to check their registration status. Data provided by local authorities suggested that close to 40% of the applications to vote in advance of the referendum were from people already registered.

The public are similarly decisive about the fact that increased transparency around political parties and their financial arrangements is the most important way elections and democracy in the UK can be improved: 40% say this would help.

These findings chime with key Electoral Commission priorities, the data we publish on political party finance, including donations, underpin our commitment to ensuring that the income and spending of parties and campaigners is open and transparent.

The findings also strongly echo themes that emerged from the submissions we received in the summer as part of our Strategic Review consultation. The introduction of photographic ID, the development of a process for checking registration status online as well as more automatic forms of voter registration are all measures we have called for in the past are integral to ensuring that our electoral system keeps pace with the expectations of 21st century voters.

We will continue to champion the modernisation and development of the electoral process where we identify room for improvement. Our public opinion work is a big part of the way we measure the health of our democracy, and will help us make sure we get right what matters most to voters.

Fieldwork was conducted by ICM who conducted 1,202 telephone interviews between the 9 and the 22 of December. More details on the methodology and the full results of the survey can be found on our website.

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My day at the Electoral Commission

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By Katherine Vass, Electoral Services Officer, Bromsgrove District Council and Redditch Borough Council 

As an Electoral Services Officer in a small local authority I’ve always viewed the Electoral Commission as a bit of an ivory tower, a faceless organisation far removed from the electoral frontline. I couldn’t have been more wrong! 

I reached the tall glass Commission building late and flustered – having not anticipated the closure of the overcrowded tube platform – to be welcomed by Elaine, Senior Communications Officer, with a coffee and a run through of the day’s events. From the first email the Electoral Commission were surprisingly open and welcoming.

The whirlwind of the past electoral year, principally the hectic EU Referendum, is still at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Whilst they may not ordinarily serve on the elections frontline, the EC were thrust into the thick of it at the referendum too so we began our day with a chat about the EC’s press releases and neon penguin. I confirmed how useful these resources are for frazzled administrators. They shared in my frustrations about not being able to help electors with registration queries or being able to look up polling stations online.

We compared how the big referendum issues, like the registration deadline extension, the wording of the question and the pens vs pencils debate affected us. They took note of how they could help administrators in the future which was encouraging to say the least, and of course I’m delighted to hear about their plans for an online polling station look-up tool on their aboutmyvote.co.uk website!

We then discussed democratic engagement. This is something the EC Communications team is really passionate about and they give me some great pointers about involving partner organisations and setting up engagement events in unexpected places. Their ideas and campaigns definitely come under the ‘outside of the box’ category – I mean, imagine registering to vote at your local nightclub or finding you match with a registration page on Tinder! It sounds crazy but this is a good place to engage with the 25% of single people who aren’t registered and it really got me thinking about ways we can engage people in my organisation.

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I was surprised to hear that the Commission come out of their ivory tower very frequently, doing a lot of the ‘on-the-ground-work’ like organising their own door-to-door research to check the accuracy and completeness of registers. Along with statistics from the census this information is used to produce some interesting figures. Did you know that 95% of homeowners are registered to vote compared to just over half of renters?  Of course, the introduction of Individual Electoral Registration (IER) improved the accuracy of the registers too but it was really interesting to hear about their research.

The day was rounded off with a look at voter registration forms – a hot topic in the elections world. I was shown how these can be designed to encourage a response and picked up some tips that we could trial. The suggestions were thought-provoking; should we include why an elector’s neighbour votes or the cost of the door-to-door canvassing on the Household Enquiry form (which is the form sent to all households each autumn to check their details on the electoral register are correct)?

Having begun the day expecting to meet London-centric bureaucrats, I left with the realisation that many of the obstacles faced by the Electoral Commission are similar to those faced by administrators. They are really keen to work closely with administrators to provide the resources and guidance we need and they’re eager to hear how their resources are being used.

I highly recommend a trip to the Commission for administrators. It is surprising just how thought-provoking the experience was and it has made me eager to think outside of the box in my own organisation. Right, now I’m off to make plans for nightclub registrations…

PS Administrators, don’t forget to sign up to their new Roll Call newsletter!

Interested to get involved with promoting voter registration ahead of the May 2017 elections? Find out how here.

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Never underestimate the power of the ballot box

2016 has been the year that democracy reasserted itself. In June, voters across the UK took part in a historic referendum, the outcome of which has profoundly changed our relationships with 27 other nations. Last month, after an 18 month campaign covered around the world, the race to become President of the United States of America was concluded. Voters across the world have been reminded that the course of history can be changed simply by turning up to a polling station, waiting patiently in a queue and marking a piece of paper.

At the end of this month, I step down as Chair of the Electoral Commission. The past eight years seem to have been filled by a constant stream of electoral events and I’m grateful to everyone who worked so hard to make them happen, in particular the EU referendum this summer, which ran smoothly under an unprecedented degree of scrutiny. But just as politics will never stand still, so neither can the electoral system which supports it, if it is to continue to meet the needs and expectations of voters. And we need to develop it in a way which ensures both security and participation, rather than seeing these as competing outcomes.

THE EU REFERENDUM at Manchester Town Hall and Central

Transferring responsibility for electoral registration from the head of the household to each individual, coupled with the introduction of online registration, has proved to be an important and valuable step to modernise our democracy and make it more secure. We first called for this in 2003 so it has been a long time coming. But bringing it into effect now in our technologically competent world means that registration could be even easier, using a wide range of data sources to identify those who should be on the register but aren’t, thus improving participation. And we continue to make the case for the registration website, run by the UK Government, to allow people to check if they are already registered to vote. So many of us, young people especially, now conduct our ‘life admin’ online. Allowing people to check if they are registered would also save local authorities time and money by reducing unnecessary applications.

On the other hand, there has been little progress on another of the Commission’s recommendations to strengthen our trust based system. We first recommended in January 2014 that there should be a requirement for voters in Great Britain to present photo ID at a polling station. This is a system that has existed in Northern Ireland for a number of years. I’m pleased that the Government’s Anti-Corruption Champion has recently come to the same conclusion and hope that the UK Government will now take up the proposal, and do so in the way we have recommended which will again safeguard participation.

Confidenpower-ballot-box_jenny-quote-croppedce in our democracy is also driven by ensuring there are the highest levels of transparency possible. In the past 8 years alone, £330 million of donations to political parties have been published by the Commission. But it is also important that no politician, political party or campaigner is perceived to be above the law. Voters need to know that if the rules are broken, action will be taken. We were only given the ability to levy our own civil sanctions in 2010. Now the Commission has called on the UK Parliament to give us stronger powers so that where there are serious breaches of the rules, more proportionate action can be taken. To reflect the fact that many parties receive and spend tens of millions of pounds at major elections and referendums, our maximum fine should be extended beyond its current £20,000 limit. Without this change, the maximum fine could all too easily become the cost of doing business.

The next few years could see a number of changes to how we vote in this country. The UK’s Law Commissions have already recommended how electoral law dating back to the 1800s can be streamlined, including changing the electoral petition process which is no longer fit for purpose. The heightened interest in the US elections also means there has been more focus on how they conduct their elections: the ability to register and cast a vote on the day of the poll and the ability to vote at a poll station up to a week before polling day are just two of the things the Electoral Commission will be looking at over the next few years. I know that my colleagues will work with governments and legislatures across the UK to come up with solutions that serve to make our democracy even better.

After the past few years at the Electoral Commission and in light of election, and referendum results over the past few years, my message is a simple one: Never underestimate the power of the ballot box. It is how your voice is heard.

Jenny Watson
Chair of the Electoral Commission

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Reflections on the US elections

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Reflections on the US elections

Earlier this month, I attended a four day programme based around the US elections, at the invitation of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES). It was a fascinating few days which highlighted a number of points of reflection on the similarities, and the huge differences, between our two electoral systems: 

  • The greatest difference is the level of decentralisation in the US. Decisions taken at state level range from the way registers are compiled and maintained, methods of voting, need for photo ID and polling station opening times. Managing an event across six time zones and fifty states (plus the District of Colombia) is complicated enough, and quite some accomplishment; but it did highlight the value of clarity and consistency for each poll, which we have at either UK or national level depending on the event.
  • Around the world, electoral colleagues are working hard to give voters flexibility of when and how they vote. The US is far advanced in its approach, with significant take up of early- and postal-voting. This is up from around 5% in the 1970s to around 40% now. In some areas, over half of votes were cast before polling day. At the other end of the timeline, some states can register new voters on polling day itself, where our deadline is currently 12 working days prior to a poll. This sets us a fresh example to inform our own work to create more flexibility for voters in our system. 
  • Campaign finance is in a different league in the US. It is estimated that $11billion was spent by campaigners this election, compared to just under £40 million at our 2015 General Election. Even taking into account population differences, this is staggering. Yet our system of transparency is significantly advanced. It was described to me that the US has a twin track system: candidates and parties must have transparency under the law, whereas campaigns funded by Super PACs spend large amounts of money with effective anonymity for some donors. There is resistance to change, including within the Federal Electoral Commission itself, but public concern is growing: in a recent survey of US voters, 85% said that there needed to be fundamental change in the way political campaigners are funded.
  • As in the UK, social media played a central role not only in campaigning but also in distributing essential voter information. And as in the UK, the issue of ‘polling booth selfies’ is also ongoing. Again, different rules apply in different states, ranging from 3 year prison sentences to rulings that a ban is unconstitutional. We continue to recommend that under current UK law, pictures should not be taken in the polling station, but that it is great to do this outside to show you have voted.

The UK democratic process has moved on at great pace in recent years, with the introduction of online registration and the development of our own party finance regulatory framework. International comparisons offer a moment to stand back and consider where we may still have work to do in our system, such as increasing security by introducing voter ID, and where we are leading the way, such as through our system of political finance regulation and transparency.

Claire Bassett, Chief Executive

 

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