Government should press ahead with change to the law so voters know who is targeting them online, advises Electoral Commission

Changes to the law information

The UK Government should continue to take steps to introduce urgent changes to the law so that voters can see who is responsible for online election and referendum campaign material, the Electoral Commission has recommended today.

Responding to the UK Government’ Protecting the Debate consultation, the Electoral Commission recommends that:

  • All non-printed election and referendum material should contain an “imprint” so that voters can see who is targeting them.
  • Any new regulations should apply equally to any online platform, even those which have yet to be developed. This platform-neutral approach would help future-proof regulations against any changes in technology.
  • The Commission be given enhanced powers to obtain information from digital platforms – such as the identity of online campaigners – to help it to monitor, track and enforce the spending rules outside a formal investigation.

Claire Bassett, Chief Executive of the Electoral Commission, said:

Extending the election and referendum imprint rules to digital campaign material is an urgent change that voters need. The gap in transparency is affecting voter confidence and makes it harder to enforce the spending rules. We welcome the UK Government’s consultation and are ready to work with them to ensure new regulations are both workable and platform-neutral, helping to future-proof them for changes in technology.

Wider reforms to protect campaigners and voters from intimidation

The UK Government’s consultation also seeks views on what can be done to protect campaigners and voters from intimidation.

We agree that applying electoral sanctions to existing criminal offences – meaning that offenders may be banned from standing for election – could strengthen current deterrents against intimidating candidates or campaigners.

We also support modernising and simplifying offences designed to protect voters from intimidation. Our response welcomes the UK Government’s review of the offence of undue influence, but warns that changes should be made as part of a comprehensive reform of all electoral offences, as set out in the UK’s Law Commissions’ widely supported 2016 recommendations.

Claire Bassett added:

People must be able to stand for election and campaign without fear of abuse or intimidation and voters should never be intimidated to vote in a certain way or not at all. The UK’s Law Commissions have set out a comprehensive package of reforms that the UK Government should implement to help address many of the problems with the UK’s complex and out of date electoral laws.

The deadline to respond to this UK Government consultation is Monday 22 October. The Commission’s response is available to read on its website.

In June, the Commission published a report setting out a number of areas where transparency in digital campaigning needs to be improved, including the part social media companies should play.

Ends

For more information contact the Electoral Commission press office:

  • 020 7271 0704 (Out of office hours: 07789 920 414)
  • press@electoralcommission.org.uk

Extra notes

Notes to editors

  • The Electoral Commission is the independent body which oversees elections and regulates political finance in the UK. We work to promote public confidence in the democratic process and ensure its integrity by:
    • enabling the delivery of free and fair elections and referendums, focusing on the needs of electors and addressing the changing environment to ensure every vote remains secure and accessible
    • regulating political finance – taking proactive steps to increase transparency, ensure compliance and pursue breaches
    • using our expertise to make and advocate for changes to our democracy,
    • aiming to improve fairness, transparency and efficiency

    The Commission was set up in 2000 and reports to the UK and Scottish Parliaments.

  • The UK Government’s consultation asks whether a new electoral offence should remove an offender’s right to vote. We do not agree that an individual found guilty of intimidating a candidate or campaigner should have their right to vote removed. Further information is contained in our response, paragraphs 1.6 – 1.10.
  • Further information on the UK’s Law Commissions’ review of electoral law can be found on their website.