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Is a trust-based electoral system sustainable? Electoral Commission consultation asks

Published: 13 May 2013

Electoral fraud in the UK is not widespread but the current voting system may be vulnerable to abuse even when everything possible is done to prevent and detect it, an Electoral Commission consultation published today says.

The Commission is asking for views on a number of possible changes to the arrangements for voting by post, proxy and in polling stations.

Responses from the first phase of the Commission’s review of electoral fraud showed that the majority of people’s concerns centered on postal voting. The fact that no ID is required at a polling station was also a concern for some people.

Jenny Watson, Chair of the Electoral Commission, said: “Although the law has been changed over the years to strengthen the system -  introducing checks on postal votes and making registering to vote more secure starting next summer - our research shows voters are still concerned about electoral fraud.

“As we make the electoral registration system more secure, it’s time to look at whether other trust-based elements of our system are sustainable. There are trade-offs between making the system accessible and making it secure. We need to make sure we have the right balance so that voters and political parties can participate in elections, but risks from unscrupulous campaigners are reduced.”

“These are not easy issues to resolve, and we are not ruling out considering any potential solution at this stage.  This is why it is important that we hear in detail from people about what they think of the different options.”

Evidence

Evidence collected during the review revealed a number of findings, including:

  • Electoral fraud is not widespread in the UK.
  • Electoral fraud is more likely to be reported as having taken place on a significant scale in specific places in England (see Notes to Editors 2).
  • The majority of cases alleged electoral fraud relate to local government elections
  • Fraud tends to be committed by candidates or their supporters, rather than voters.
  • A significant proportion of the public (around a third of respondents to our public opinion research surveys) are concerned about electoral fraud.

The Commission is also publishing today the latest figures from the 2012 police data on electoral fraud.   The figures show an increase in the number of cases of alleged electoral fraud, although it is unclear how much of this reflects an increased focus on recording of particular offences by the police.

Some people who responded to the first phase of the review expressed strongly held views that electoral fraud is more likely to be committed by, or in support of, candidates from areas which are largely populated by some South Asian communities.  There is, however, an absence of robust evidence in this area. In order to test the validity of these concerns, the Commission will now carry out further work to try and assess whether or not people within these communities are able to effectively exercise their own vote.

Consultation options

A number of options are presented in the paper including:

  • Restricting the availability of postal voting in Great Britain
  • Providing alternatives to postal voting, including advance voting
  • Restricting the handling of postal vote applications and postal ballot packs by campaigners and prohibiting the availability of absent voters’ lists before elections
  • Requiring all voters at polling stations in Great Britain to provide proof of their identity
  • Introducing statutory restrictions on the activities of campaigners outside polling stations.

Changes to the rules on proxy voting are also considered.

In addition to consulting parties, campaigners, Returning Officers and the police, the Commission will be undertaking research with the public on these options.

Recommendations for elections in 2014/2015

In addition to the consultation, the Electoral Commission also wants action to be taken to address public confidence ahead of the 2014 and 2015 elections, including:

  • Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) and Returning Officers (ROs) need to begin detailed planning now to ensure their approach to preventing and detecting electoral fraud is as thorough and robust as possible.
  • Police forces need to review their plans for policing elections in 2014 and 2015 in conjunction with EROs and ROs.
  • Candidates, political parties and other campaigners need to make clear publicly their commitment to following the Commission’s Code of Conduct for campaigners.

Ends

For more information and to arrange media interviews, please contact Rosemary Davenport on 020 7271 0704/outside office hours on 07789 920 414, or by email on
press@electoralcommission.org.uk

Notes to Editors

  1. The Electoral Commission is an independent body set up by the UK Parliament. Our aim is integrity and public confidence in the UK's democratic process. We regulate party and election finance, set standards for well-run elections and are responsible for the conduct and accuracy of referendums held under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (2000).
  2. Read the Electoral Fraud Evidence and Issues Paper here (PDF)
  3. Read the Analysis of Cases of Alleged Electoral Fraud in 2012 here (PDF)
  4. Read a police force breakdown of allegations of electoral fraud (XLSX)
  5. The 15 areas where there has been a history of cases of alleged fraud are: Birmingham, Blackburn with Darwen, Bradford, Burnley, Calderdale, Coventry, Hyndburn, Kirklees, Oldham, Pendle, Peterborough, Slough, Tower Hamlets, Walsall, and Woking.

 

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