Standing for election in the United Kingdom: Report and recommendations

Overview

The Electoral Commission is an independent body which reports directly to the UK Parliament. We regulate political party and election finance and set standards for well-run elections. We report to the relevant Governments on recommendations for change that we have identified.

We have a strong interest in simplifying and updating the procedures used by candidates to stand for election in the UK. We last reviewed the rules around standing for election in 2003, after which a number of recommendations were taken forward by the UK Government. This report gives an updated view of these issues, including reporting on responses to a new consultation paper published in September 2013.

The following aspects of standing for election were within the scope of the consultation document:

  • Qualifications and disqualifications
  • Deposits and subscribers
  • Candidate benefits, including candidate mailings, broadcasts, access to the register, free use of rooms, descriptions and emblems
  • Procedural issues, including the use of candidate photographs on ballot papers, delivering and objecting to nomination papers.

We sought views from a range of people and organisations including elected representatives, political parties, electoral administrators and candidates who have stood for election. Around 100 responses were received from a range of individuals, organisations and groups.

The responsibility and entitlements of those standing for election are set out in law, and they vary depending on the election. Many of these rules have been in place for many years, and questions have been raised about whether they are still appropriate. Some of these have been highlighted in the Commission’s statutory reports on elections, including: the value of the subscribers system (also known as signatures or assenters); the size and variation in deposits; the rules on access to the electoral register; the clarity of qualification and disqualification criteria; and the prohibition on independent candidates using descriptions on the ballot paper.

While the rules on standing for election are of most direct interest to potential candidates and political parties, they are also important for voters since they help determine the range of candidates available to them. The rules should also inspire confidence in elections amongst voters, candidates and parties.

To assess the robustness of the laws and procedures relating to standing for election, we have used the following set of principles:

  • Clear election law – the rules on standing for election should be clear, straightforward and unambiguous.
  • Encourage participation – processes should be accessible and transparent to promote the widest participation. There should be no unnecessary barriers to standing for election.
  • Fair and equal treatment – fair and equal treatment should be ensured between all candidates, save where differences are genuinely justified.
  • Trust – rules should inspire confidence amongst voters.
  • Consistency of approach – as far as possible the rules on standing for election should be consistently set so they are easy to understand and any differences between them should reflect conscious policy choices by the relevant legislature.
  • Up to date – the rules on standing for election should reflect current technology and the expectations of candidates, agents, political parties, voters and those administering elections.

We used these principles to assess the appropriateness of the current arrangements, drawing on the evidence submitted through the consultation.

During the review we have been able to identify some areas where relatively straightforward changes to the law could be made. However, in some other areas the issues and law relating to standing for election are very complex.

Our recommendations make clear where this is the case and it will be important for further work to be done by the relevant policy makers before any changes are made to the law.

Qualifications and disqualifications: Recommendations

We recommend that the relevant Governments should clarify and update the law relating to the qualifications for local government elections including those relating to being a local government elector for the area, occupying as owner or tenant, principal or only place of work being in the area, and residence in the area (or within three miles at parish or community elections).

We recognise that the qualification about continuing to be a local government elector for the area of the authority is different from the other three qualifications, since it must be satisfied throughout the whole of a councillor’s term of office. This qualification does not apply in Scotland or Northern Ireland. We also note that enforcing this qualification is not practical since there is no requirement for nomination papers to be held (and where they are held it is not normally beyond one year). We therefore recommend that the Government considers whether this qualification is still appropriate.

We recommend that the law in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is changed to make a clear distinction between offices or employment which would prevent someone standing for election, and those which would prevent someone from holding office if elected. A suggested framework of questions is put forward in this report to help establish whether a particular postholder could stand, but it would be up to the relevant Governments to determine how these should apply when reviewing the law. This reduction in restrictions on potential candidates would enable wider choice for voters.

We recommend that the law is changed so that voters, voting in person in polling stations (and where practical those voting by post), are informed that a candidate had either been disqualified or no longer wants to be considered for election but has not withdrawn their candidature within the time allowed. This will ensure that the voter can make a more informed choice.

Deposits and subscribers: Recommendations

We recommend removing the requirement to pay a deposit at all elections, as we do not consider that there should be a financial barrier to standing for election.

We recommend that subscribers should be retained to maintain trust that elections are being contested by serious candidates and avoid ballot papers that are unwieldy for voters and difficult to administer. The number of subscribers should be reviewed for each election to ensure it is proportionate to the post for which the candidate is standing.

Candidate benefits: Recommendations

We recommend that the law should be changed to ensure that electors are sent printed information about candidates standing for election as PCCs in their police area. This should take the form of a booklet with addresses from each candidate sent by the relevant Police Authority Returning Officer to every household in the police authority area. This was done on a trial basis for the PCC by-election in West Midlands in August 2014. The Home Office will be evaluating the effectiveness of this trial.

We recommend that the legislation around free candidate mailings be amended to allow candidates at combined elections to use a single election communication covering both elections if that is their choice, but only where there is a right to a free mailing in respect of the elections referred to in the mailing.

Candidate benefits continued

We believe that the criteria for party election broadcasts (PEBs) are working well. However, there is some uncertainty about whether the law allows independent candidates who can demonstrate sufficient support to qualify for a PEB, and in our view it does not. In the case of candidates standing for Mayor of London this may disadvantage independents compared to party candidates. (This is only currently relevant in London since it is the only area where in practice broadcast areas and electoral boundaries are sufficiently aligned to have made this a possibility.) We think it is important that this is addressed at the earliest legislative opportunity. We also appreciate the clear problems expressed by the broadcasters in making provision for separate PEBs in different English regions, and believe that broadcasters should keep under review technological developments that may make such provision possible in the future.

Candidate benefits: Recommendations

We recommend that the legislation is changed to enable independent candidates to have party election broadcasts where this is feasible (in practice this is only at London Mayoral elections at present). The criteria that regulators and broadcasters use to award broadcasts should, for those elections where this is relevant, identify what levels of past and current support an independent candidate would need to receive a broadcast.

Broadcasters should keep under review technological developments that may make the provision of regional PEBs in England a more viable option in the future to ensure better access to voters by those that can demonstrate significant electoral support in a particular area.

Candidate benefits continued

There was support for independent candidates having access to the electoral register at an earlier stage. Such access would enable independent candidates to campaign on a more equal basis with candidates from political parties.

Candidate benefits: Recommendations

We continue to recommend that the law is changed to allow all candidates to get earlier access to the register for electoral purposes.

Candidate benefits continued

There are strongly held views on both sides of the debate about whether independents should be allowed to use an emblem on the ballot paper. The case in favour is based on the argument that the current position is unfair as it provides an advantage to party candidates who are allowed emblems. On balance our view is that the use of emblems should remain a facility reserved for political parties, to help protect the identities of parties and preserve an incentive for registering a party.

There was support for retaining free use of rooms for candidates, although awareness of this entitlement was low.

Candidate benefits: Recommendations

We recommend that Returning Officers should ensure that the information they make available to potential candidates includes information on their entitlements, including what facilities are available and the likely cost of hiring them.

Procedural issues: Recommendations

We recommend that the law is changed to allow nomination papers, consents to nomination, withdrawal notices, certificates of party authorisation and emblem requests to be submitted by post, email and fax for all elections in the UK, in addition to hand delivery. This would update this area of law, making standing for election more accessible.

We recommend that consideration is given to allowing nominations to be submitted via an online system.

Procedural issues: Continued

Objections to nominations and determining the validity of nominations

At UK Parliamentary elections the following persons are able to attend the proceedings for the delivery of nomination papers and may inspect those papers and also raise objections to their validity:

  • A candidate who is validly nominated,
  • The election agent of a candidate who is validly nominated, or
  • The proposer or seconder of a candidate who is validly nominated

In the consultation we sought views on whether the objections procedures should be revised and replaced with a more consistent and transparent scheme and how such a scheme would work in practice. We also wanted to establish if the current timeframes set for objections were sufficient to meet the needs of candidates and electoral administrators alike.

Most responses on this topic expressed support for simplifying the rules around objections to nominations. We agree that there is a need to simplify these provisions to make the process more easily understandable and transparent.

We also support the argument that there should be a standard consistent objection system for all elections. This should include consideration of amending the law to allow for objections in elections where there is currently no objections procedure. In addition, we do not think it is appropriate that the right to inspect and object is reserved to a small group of persons associated with a validly nominated candidate.

Many respondents were keen that Returning Officers should be able to decide that a nomination paper is invalid if a candidate is not qualified or is disqualified. Our view is that consideration should be given to changing the law so that objections can be made on the grounds that a candidate is either not qualified or disqualified, and that the Returning Officer be required to hold a nomination paper to be invalid where the Returning Officer finds that the candidate is not qualified or is disqualified. It appears to us to be an unsatisfactory situation that an obviously ineligible candidate should be allowed to stand for election and be able to serve out their full term of office unless someone was willing and able to challenge the eligibility of the elected person in the courts.

While this case is strong, we accept that the principle that the Returning Officer has no role in determining whether a candidate is qualified or disqualified (except under the RPA 1981) is well established and any change to this would be a fundamental change to electoral law and the role of the Returning Officer. There would be a need to ensure that the change to the law produced a system that worked in practice and did not produce inconsistency in how it was applied by Returning Officers, and in particular that any changes could be implemented within the election timetable. Any proposals for change would therefore require careful consideration and consultation with the electoral community, especially with Returning Officers.

Procedural issues: Recommendations

We recommend that the legislation should be amended to clarify and simplify the process of objecting to nominations for all elections in the UK. This includes ensuring that the system is easy to understand. This reform will help to increase the transparency of the standing for election process.

We recommend that consideration is given to allowing objections to nominations on the grounds that a candidate is not qualified or is disqualified and, if satisfied that that is the case, requiring a Returning Officer to hold a nomination paper to be invalid. This would help to ensure the integrity of the process.

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Adolygiad nesaf: 2 Ionawr 2021