The UK Government is proposing to simplify and clarify the offence of undue influence. Someone is guilty of undue influence if they use, or threaten to use, force or violence to make someone vote a certain way, or not vote at all. The proposed changes would make it simpler for the police to take action when allegations of undue influence are made.
The government plans to clarify the offence by setting out the ways someone might be found guilty of undue influence. Under the new proposals there would be a broader definition of the offence, clarifying the types of illegal behaviour which people may use to unfairly influence someone’s vote. This may include physical violence, damage to someone’s property or damage to their reputation.
The proposals would apply to all campaign activity, including printed materials, and would extend to anyone who seeks to intimidate a voter either inside or outside a polling station.
Voters must be protected from anyone who attempts to intimidate them to vote in a particular way or not to vote at all.
Undue influence is a complex electoral offence that is not easy for voters to understand. Simplifying and defining this offence more clearly would help to protect voters against exploitation and would make clear what is and is not acceptable behaviour.
This change will also make it easier for the police and prosecutors to take action where appropriate.
Campaigners should be allowed to put their messages to voters on polling day, as long as they are doing so peacefully and proportionately, and provided they do not prevent access to polling stations and make their case inside polling stations.
It’s important that legitimate campaigning is not inadvertently prevented by changes to the way this offence is defined. We recommended that the UK Government introduces a clear, workable definition of what activity should and should not be allowed around polling stations.