Urgent action needed to prevent abuse and intimidation of candidates at elections

Urgent action needed to prevent abuse and intimidation of candidates at elections

Many candidates at the May elections reported experiencing abuse, threatening behaviour and intimidation, according to reports published today by the Electoral Commission.

The reports look at the delivery of elections across the UK in May, and how voter and campaigners found taking part. Findings reveal:

  • four in 10 candidates reported experiencing problems with intimidation in elections in England (40%), Scotland (44%) and Wales (40%)
  • in Northern Ireland the proportion of candidates who reported experiences of intimidation was even higher (71%)
  • most abuse was verbal or experienced online and from members of the public or anonymous sources

While public confidence in elections remains high, and campaigners reported that they felt able to communicate effectively with voters, the reports reflect the challenges faced by campaigners as well as by those running elections.

Craig Westwood, the Electoral Commission’s Director of Communications, Policy and Research said:

“Urgent action is needed to prevent the abuse and intimidation of candidates and campaigners at elections. It is vital that candidates can participate in elections without fear. The Commission will work with governments and the wider electoral community to make sure we understand what is driving this issue, and address it as a matter of urgency.”

The Elections Act, passed earlier this year, introduces a new electoral sanction for those found guilty of intimidating candidates, campaigners and elected representatives. Banning someone from standing for elected office, as well as imposing criminal sanctions, such as a prison sentence or fine, will strengthen the deterrent against this intimidating behaviour.

The Act also introduces changes to voting and elections. The UK Government intends for some of these measures, including voter ID for certain elections in Great Britain, to be in place for the first time at the May 2023 local elections in England.

Craig Westwood, added:

“Voter confidence in elections remains high, thanks to the dedicated work of election teams across the UK, but the resilience of these teams remains a concern. Many reported struggling to recruit staff and find suitable polling station and count venues. From next year, new requirements will put additional pressure on election teams at local councils, whose capacity is already under strain.

“There have been significant delays in the development of the law that sets out the detail of these new requirements. We are concerned about the impact these delays could have on the effective implementation of the changes. The UK Government should make sure that policies are introduced with proper funding and enough time for voters and election teams to prepare.”

Ends

You can find more information and press releases for the Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland reports on our website’s media centre.

For more information contact the Electoral Commission press office on 020 7271 0704, out of office hours 07789 920 414 or press@electoralcommission.org.uk

Notes to Editors

  1. The Electoral Commission has a statutory duty to report on the administration of the following elections held in May 2022: Scottish council elections and the Northern Ireland Assembly. We chose to report on the other elections that took place. All the reports can be found here.
  2. The Electoral Commission ran surveys of candidates at each election. Returning Officers were invited to share the survey link with candidates and, in areas where this did not happen, the Commission contacted candidates whose email addresses were publicly available. Fieldwork ran from 9 May to 6 June in Great Britain and 11 May to 8 June in Northern Ireland. Candidates were asked: On a scale of 1-5, with 1 being no problem at all and 5 being a serious problem, how much of a problem, if any, did you have with threats, abuse or intimidation in this election? Respondents who rated their experience as a 2 or above were counted as having experienced threats, abuse, or intimidation.

      The surveys received the following number of responses:

  1. 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, focussing 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, Scottish and Welsh parliaments.