Minutes: Wales Electoral Practitioners Working Group 20 June 2018

Wales Electoral Practitioners Working Group 20 June 2018

Date: 20 June 2018

Wales Electoral Practitioners Working Group 20 June 2018

Meeting administration

The minutes of the previous meeting were agreed as a correct record.

Matthew Redmond (Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales) had not yet attended a WEPWG meeting.

Action: Invite Matthew Redmond (Local Democracy and Boundary Commission for Wales) to attend future meeting

RG said that Jenny Murphy (Local Government Data Unit) had spoken at the AEA branch meeting yesterday and given a good presentation on the local government candidate survey. There had been fewer responses than in 2012 but the quality of the data for 2017 was better. She had said that the funding level was, however, not sufficient, even for a digital survey.

RT thanked GM for attending the most upcoming Elections, Referendums and Registration Working Group (ERRWG) meeting to represent Wales’ administrators.

Discussion with Welsh Government about plans for local government election reform and possible pilot schemes

FC said that Welsh Government was holding three workshops with electoral practitioners across Wales on electoral reform.

He went on to outline the proposed electoral reforms that he expected to be included in the forthcoming Local Government Bill. The Bill was likely to include an extension of the franchise to include 16 and 17 year olds and all foreign nationals legally resident in Wales but there could be complications around the devolved competence to include prisoners in the franchise.

The Bill would introduce an ability for Electoral Registration Officers (EROs) to automatically register people if they were satisfied that the information they had on them was reliable.

The Bill would enable secondary legislation to allow for the development of an all Wales electronic register when this became possible.

Local government election terms would officially move to five years. There would be an option for individual councils to choose between First Past the Post (FPTP) and Single Transferable Vote (STV) voting systems for local government elections. A two thirds majority vote in Council would be needed to change the system and it would have to remain for two terms.

The Bill would include provision for pilots at by-elections or ordinary elections, although these were not likely to be encouraged between now and 2022.

The Bill was also expected to include the removal of the requirement for candidates to include their home address in any published notices or on the ballot paper; a prohibition on Assembly Members also serving as councillors, the introduction of online election addresses, a requirement to disclose party affiliation, allowing council staff to stand for election to their own council (providing they resign prior to taking up their seat) and ending the personal fee for Returning Officers (ROs) at Assembly and local elections.

RT said that the next UK Parliamentary general election (UKPGE) was due to be held on the same day as the next local government elections. He asked whether Welsh Government had considered this.

FC said Welsh Ministers were currently able to change the year of the elections but that provision was planned for the Bill enabling Ministers to change the date of the election.

RT asked about the proposal to include the duties of the RO in the role of the local authority Chief Executive.

FC said that the Bill was expected to have a provision replacing the existing statutory Head of Paid Service with a statutory Chief Executive and the functions of a Chief Executive becoming the RO for local and Assembly elections. It would also be possible for the local authority to appoint the RO and Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) roles separately.

AB said that the removal of the RO fee could lead to a reduction in support from the RO and the RO becoming a figurehead.

GM added that there could be an issue with the independent role of the RO as Chief Executives might then be subject to political influence.

FC said that the independent role of the RO would be protected in legislation. The only change would be to remove the freedom of the local authority as to who they appointed as RO.

RG said that some AEA members were concerned that all feedback from the Welsh Government workshops on electoral reform was captured and that there was a clear line for follow up.

FC said that there was no mechanism currently set up but that this would be considered.

EC project – Modernising Electoral Registration

CU said that the Commission had published a report on electoral registration at the June 2017 UKPGE and identified a number of ways to improve and modernise the electoral registration system in the UK. A project group had been established to identify reforms that could be introduced including:

  • better use of data by EROs to identify new electors or potential changes to existing entries
  • automatic electoral registration
  • integration of electoral registration into other public services
  • potential ways to detect and prevent duplicate applications
  • polling day registration.

The project group would look at whether these reforms could be delivered and what they would cost. They were also considering the principles that should guide modernisation and the advantages and disadvantages associated with individual versus state action, IER versus automatic registration, joined up national registration versus unconnected and different processes in each local authority.

The group would also be looking at the most efficient way of delivery, including value for money, whether a targeted approach would be better and digital risks.

The Commission was examining what national and local data was available and had already held meetings with DVLA, HMRC, EONI and would be speaking to the Passport Office, Department for Education, DWP, ONS and various other organisations who held potentially useful data.

RG suggested that these findings would assist Cabinet Office in their electoral registration reform work.

Action: Welsh Government to consider setting up a feedback facility

AB asked whether Welsh Government were liaising with the election software suppliers.

FC said that there had been a number of meetings with elections software suppliers and CGI who supplied counting equipment in Scotland. The companies were well versed on the potential for an extended franchise.

Concerning the cost of proposed electoral reforms FC said that the Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) which would accompany the Bill would include costings and a scrutiny stage with an opportunity to provide feedback.

RG asked about the ongoing costs of maintaining the electoral register.

When Individual Electoral Registration (IER) had been introduced, which was more expensive than the household canvass system, there had been implementation and ongoing maintenance costs.

FC said that the regular costs of registration would not be included in the RIA. Only additional burdens placed on local authorities would be included in the RIA.

GM asked about online registration and whether this would be affected by the proposed electoral reform.

FC said that Cabinet Office would maintain control of the online registration portal. There was an issue around whether people automatically registered in Wales would be able to vote in UK elections.

The intention was that anyone who was added to the electoral register by an ERO, based on information they considered to be reliable, would be asked to confirm their details. If there was no reply, it would be for the ERO to decide whether to include them on the register or not.

AI said that in Scotland 15 and 16 year olds were added to the UKPGE register when they became eligible.

RG said that IER placed the burden on the individual. Automatic registration moved this burden back to the ERO. There was a conflict in principles and there would be two different approaches for different elections.

RT suggested that Welsh Government still needed to engage with ROs on the proposed electoral reforms as they had not been included in the workshops held to date.

EC project – review of electoral observer scheme

CH explained that the Commission was currently reviewing its observer scheme which had been running for 10 years. The Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act (PPERA) gave the Commission a statutory duty to accredit individuals and organisations to be observers and to revoke or reject accreditation in limited circumstances.

The scheme was in place primarily to ensure transparency and to enhance confidence in the system by opening up the process to the public and international observers.

The review had considered a number of observer schemes in other countries and international standards of observation. The UK system operated well and was open to everyone. Some countries allowed public observation where you were able to just turn up and observe others were accessible only by invitation. The UK application process was also straightforward.

The project group had also considered what was not working so well with the current scheme. There was no clearly stated purpose no mechanism for observers to provide feedback following their observations. The number of observers had increased over the last 10 years and there was a slight increased risk of disruption by observers. Many observers did not know what they were doing and were not fully aware of the processes and the expectations on them. Those delivering elections did not know which individuals might attend their sessions and polling stations.

The group had identified four key principles to underpin the revised scheme: transparency, accessibility, impartiality and security.

AB said that at the two elections last year the police had wanted the names of all those attending the count so that they could run them through their system. She asked whether there was a closing date for applications and whether observers knew that their details would be supplied to the police.

CH said that there was a closing date around 10 days before polling day. There was a list of all observers and organisations on the Commission’s website although it did not say where observers were planning to observe.

This was being considered as part of the review.

AI added that there was a difficult balance between accessibility and security. The  Commission’s Privacy Note for GDPR did state that observers’ details might be shared with the police.

RG asked how feedback from observers would be used and whether it would be published or just for internal use. This feedback could be useful for lessons learned evaluations.

AI said that the feedback facility would be transparent and that relevant feedback would be shared with ROs.

AB said that interested people did not know that the scheme existed. The scheme should be communicated to universities and organisations with an interest in politics.

CH said that an increasing number of schools and sixth forms took part.

The Commission’s role had been to administer the scheme and accredit observers. The Commission could look to build relationships to demonstrate transparency. The consultation would close at the end of October.

Update from AEA

An AEA Wales branch roundtable had taken place on 14 May with AEAs newly appointed Chief Executive, Peter Stanyon and Deputy, Laura Lock.

The Wales branch was small in membership with limited funding compared to other branches. There was a request for this to be considered and for additional support during the upcoming electoral reform agenda.

Members had attended the Welsh Government workshops and responded to the electoral reform consultations. A partial response was submitted to the Green Paper consultation.

AEA had not produced a report following the May 2018 local elections in England but instead written to the Minister Chloe Smith MP to restate recommendations from previous election reports.

Update from Electoral Commission

CU had attended the Welsh Government workshops and meetings on electoral reform and the Commission had responded to Welsh Government’s consultation on Strengthening Local Government with recommendations.

The ERO guidance had been updated to incorporate guidance on GDPR.

The Commission would be publishing a report on the canvass pilot evaluations. The report would state that the annual canvass was still an important tool but the current system was not sustainable. It was costly and inefficient and there was potential for changes that would improve the effectiveness and cost.

The Commission was currently working through public opinion research and would publish its report on the May 2017 voter ID pilots before the summer recess. Cabinet Office intended to oversee a further set of pilots in 2019.

A risk based sample of EROs would be selected for monitoring under the performance standards framework for this year’s canvass. Those in the sample would be notified in July.

Update from Wales Electoral Coordination Board

LW explained that the latest WECB meeting had been held in May. The Regional Returning Officer for Mid and West Wales, Mark James, had provided an update on the RO / ERO mentoring and induction scheme.

There had been five new ROs / EROs since the scheme was launched in March 2018. Three had already been assigned mentors and the Electoral Commission had met with one to discuss the Commission’s guidance and support available. WECB were looking to extend this scheme to new Electoral Services Managers (ESMs) next year.

The Welsh Language Legislation Advisory Group (WLLAG) launched the Electoral Glossary of Terms at the meeting. The Electoral Commission, in collaboration with others, had created a database of electoral terms and will provide a useful resource to ensure consistency across Wales and reduce duplication of work. WLLAG would look next at voter facing forms, working with Cabinet Office.

WECB had produced a succession and capacity self-assessment survey which all ESMs would be encouraged to complete. This might identify training needs which AEA could be asked to deliver.

The Llywydd, Elin Jones AM, had been invited to the next meeting which was likely to focus on the proposed electoral reform in Wales.

Royal Mail Mailmark guidance

New guidance had been issued by Royal Mail about the format and design of poll cards if customers wanted to use the Mailmark product. The poll card design was English language only with no bilingual template available. This could significantly increase the cost of posting out poll
cards.

RT suggested that WLLAG could look into this further.

Action: Welsh Language Legislation Advisory Group to consider Royal Mail Mailmark guidance and report back to Royal Mail and Cabinet Office

Polling district reviews

AB explained that she was waiting for draft proposals on the local authority boundaries from the Local Democracy Boundary Commission for Wales. The final consultation was not until summer 2019 but polling district reviews were due to commence in October 2018.

AI suggested that the Commission might be able to provide additional guidance on this.

Action: Electoral Commission to consider providing guidance about carrying polling district reviews during boundary reviews 

Dates of forthcoming meetings

It was suggested to invite Welsh Government to all WEPWG meetings during the electoral reform programme and to invite an outreach officer for the Youth Parliament to a future meeting.

Action: Invite Welsh Government to attend all WEPWG meetings during the electoral reform programme

Action: Invite Outreach Officer from the Youth Parliament to a future meeting

Any other business

RT said that the Commission was running a series of seminars on democracy in Wales. The first seminar had been held in February with the Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Public Services, Alun Davies AM speaking about local government electoral reform. The next seminar would be held during Eisteddfod week with Commissioner Elan Closs Stephens, the Llywydd Elin Jones AM and a panel of young people to discuss votes at 16. An invite would be sent to all WEPWG members to help promote the event.

Action: Send invite to Eisteddfod seminar to regional chairs to promote the event

In November there would be a seminar in north Wales to discuss diversity and women’s participation in Welsh politics during the centenary year of women’s suffrage. A panel of female Assembly Members would discuss the Assembly Commission’s proposals to introduce gender quotas and job sharing for Assembly Members.

Last updated: 20 December 2019
Next review: 27 November 2020