Voters say EU Referendum was well run; Electoral Commission says lessons should still be learnt

Referendum update

The EU referendum was well run, with public opinion research finding that voters had a positive view of the administration of the referendum process, according to a report published today by the Electoral Commission. However, the Commission’s report also says that legislation for the administration and regulation of future referendums must take on board the lessons from this poll.

Today’s report acknowledges the scale and complexity of delivering the referendum for electoral administrators.

There was a record high electorate for the EU Referendum - 46,500,001. A total 33,578,037 votes were cast, representing a turnout of 72.2%. This was the highest turnout for any UK-wide poll since the 1992 UK Parliamentary general election.

  • Almost 26.3 million votes were cast in-person at polling stations.
  • Over 8.5 million postal votes were issued for the referendum (18.4% of the UK electorate), the highest proportion since the introduction of postal voting on demand in Great Britain in 2001.
  • As in previous years, turnout was higher among postal voters than in-person voters: 87.3% compared to 68.8%. Postal votes made up 21.7% of the total votes cast, slightly more than at the 2015 UK Parliamentary General Election when they made up 20.5%.

Public opinion research

Evidence from the Commission’s public opinion research with voters also shows that they had a positive view of the EU referendum process.

  • 77% of people questioned said they were very or fairly confident that the referendum was well run.
  • People were satisfied with the process of registering to vote (87% said they were generally satisfied).
  • People remain highly satisfied with the procedures for voting in the referendum, whether in-person at a polling station (97%), or by post (99%).

The Commission also asked respondents after the poll whether they had enough information about the ‘leave’ and ‘remain’ arguments to be able to make an informed decision how to vote in the referendum, 62% of respondents agreed that they did compared to 28% who disagreed.

The Electoral Commission makes a number of recommendations today, including a call to ensure that significant amounts of public money cannot be used for promotional activity during a referendum.

Jenny Watson, Chair of the Electoral Commission and Chief Counting Officer for the EU Referendum said:

The successful delivery of the referendum was thanks to the over 100,000 members of staff who were working in around 41,000 polling stations across the UK and Gibraltar. Voters would not have seen the scale and complexity of the efforts that went into planning the poll from months before the date but I am grateful for all their work which makes democracy a reality for all of us.

Looking ahead to future referendums, it is evident that the restrictions on publicly funded promotional activity could usefully be clarified ahead to make clear which activities are restricted, and when the restrictions apply, as well as who is responsible for enforcing the restrictions, and what the penalties would be for any breach of the restrictions.

Although the Commission reports that the referendum was delivered without any major issues, it has set out how it acted to mitigate risks related to the timing and legislation for the poll. This included early engagement with campaigners and producing a comprehensive set of guidance to enable electoral administrators to plan for this historic referendum.

Jenny Watson added:

Lessons are learned from each referendum to further improve planning and delivery. The UK Government should ensure these lessons are incorporated into the standard rules for referendums now to remove ambiguity, as was the case for the EU referendum.

The report points to the ongoing work of the Law Commissions, which have recommended that rules governing other polls should be extended to national referendums where appropriate, and that secondary legislation should set out the detailed conduct rules governing national referendums.

The full report will be published at 11am today at:

A further report on the Commission’s May 2016 and EU Referendum public awareness campaigns was also published and is available on the Commission’s website

For further information contact the Electoral Commission press office:

Extra notes

Notes to editor

  • 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 and set standards for well-run elections and are responsible for the conduct and regulation of referendums held under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (2000).
  • The Electoral Commission has specific responsibilities and functions in relation to the delivery and regulation of referendums held under PPERA, which applies to any referendum Bill brought before the UK Parliament unless specifically stated otherwise.
  • The Electoral Commission will issue a further report in spring 2017. That report will focus on the spending and donation returns that campaigners are required to submit to us before the statutory deadlines in September and December 2016. It will also provide information on the use of our investigatory and sanctioning powers at the referendum.