Response to the UK Government policy consultation: Protecting the Debate
- Applying electoral sanctions to existing criminal offences
- Intimidation of voters - undue influence
- Increasing transparency in digital election campaigning
This response sets our our advice on three proposed changes to electoral law to protect candidates and voters from intimidation. We are responding to this consultation as Parliament has given us a role to keep electoral law under review and to recommend changes where we think they are needed.
Applying electoral sanctions to existing criminal offences
Candidates and campaigners have a key role in encouraging people to participate in elections and referendums. Activities for or against candidates and campaigners must not bring into question the integrity of the electoral process.
- We agree with the Government that allowing electoral sanctions to be applied as well as criminal sanctions could act as a strengthened deterrent against intimidating candidates or campaigners.
- Removing the right to vote would be a disproportionate sanction, but stopping someone from standing for election may not be a sufficient deterrent for people who do not want to become a candidate.
- The Government should consider whether increasing the maximum sentence for serious offences relating to elections, as recommended by the UK’s Law Commissions, would also act as a strengthened deterrent against intimidation.
Intimidation of voters – undue influence
Voters should be protected from being intimidated to vote in a particular way or not to vote.
- We welcome the UK Government’s review of the offence of undue influence and continue to support the modernisation and simplification of all aspects of this offence.
- Any changes to the current laws on undue influence must be clearly and simply defined with workable definitions.
- We continue to recommend that any changes should be made as part of a comprehensive reform of all electoral offences, as set out in the UK Law Commissions’ 2016 recommendations. Many electoral offences are complex, out of date and not easily understood and reforming undue influence alone risks adding further complexity without addressing many of the problems with the legislation.
- We would be pleased to work with the UK government and with prosecutors and police, who can advise on how the law will work in practice.
Increasing transparency in digital election campaigning
We have recommended since 2003 that the imprint rules be extended to digital material.
- Extending the imprint rules to digital material is urgent. This gap in transparency is affecting voter confidence and our ability to enforce the rules.
- All non-printed election and referendum material should contain an imprint.
- Any new regulations should be drafted as general principles to make them platform neutral and to future-proof them for changes in technology.
- The UK Government should give the Electoral Commission wider powers to compel information outside of an investigation, including from digital platforms.
- The imprint rules for printed election material in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) should be commenced for Northern Ireland.
- The imprint rules in Northern Ireland should be the same as the rest of the UK.