Make America Wait Again? Keep UK elections clean!
By Rachel Dineley
Chiltern residents have two opportunities to comment on the future of the electoral process, nationally and in Buckinghamshire.
The Electoral Commission is the independent body which oversees elections and regulates political finance in the UK. It works to promote public confidence in the democratic process and ensure its integrity. A parliamentary committee is reviewing it and the deadline for giving them your views is imminent. More details below.
Separately, the Local Government Boundary Commission for England is starting a review of the new Buckinghamshire Council. How many members and wards, and the boundaries of those wards will be decided late in 2021. We'll publish details of the consultation in due course.
Democracy under threat - Act Now!
A parliamentary committee is undertaking a review of the Electoral Commission. The Electoral Commission is the independent body which oversees elections and regulates political finance in the UK. It works to promote public confidence in the democratic process and ensure its integrity.
The deadline for responding to the call for evidence is 16 November so you still have time to make a submission on this very important topic. The link is:
Given all we have seen happen in the United States, we may want the Electoral Commission's powers and duties broadened and strengthened, rather than watered down, as the current government may seek to do. Now is our opportunity to make submissions to counter any such move. The Committee asks a series of questions. Some relate to how the Electoral Commission ("EC") currently works and some about what it should do in the future. The Committee invites evidence on the following issues:
- The effectiveness of the Electoral Commission in discharging its statutory obligation a) What roles and functions within the UK electoral system should the Commission perform? b) Should the remit of the Electoral Commission be changed? c) What powers should the Electoral Commission have? Should the existing powers of the Electoral Commission be changed?
- The governance of the Electoral Commission
- Public and political confidence in the impartiality and ability of the Electoral Commission
- The international reputation of and comparators for the UK Electoral Commission
- What, if any, reforms of the Electoral Commission should be considered?
Responding to issue 5 is key. To be able address these questions, there are a variety of sources you can consult, including the EC itself, and the Electoral Reform Society ("ERS"), both of which have reported on the 2019 general election and the lessons learned from it. You can find the EC's own website and its report here:
The EC's report is easy to follow and has a summary of the challenges we face and how to address them ahead of the next UK general election.
The Electoral Reform Society is an independent campaigning organisation working to champion the rights of voters and build a better democracy in the UK. Their several reports can be found here:
The ERS reports culminate in one published in September 2020,addressing the challenges posed by digital campaigning entitled Democracy in the Dark. To give you a flavour of its content, in the appendix below we have included an extract, with the recommendations made.
Of course you do not need to answer all of the Committee's questions. You can choose simply to address the questions in issue 1c) above, and the question in issue 5, with respect to the future and ask that the recommendations of the EC and the ERS be taken fully into account, for the reasons set out in their reports. You will be giving voice to concerns which are shared by a great many voters, who want a fair, transparent and open system, accessible by all those entitled to vote. Your submission can be sent ( by no later than 16 November) through this link:https://committees.parliament.uk/call-for-evidence/178/the-work-of-the-electoral-commission/
Appendix : 10 key reforms, from the Electoral Reform Society
In Democracy in the Dark, the authors highlight 10 key reforms - beyond online imprints - needed to shine a light on online political campaigning:
- Require campaigners to provide the Electoral Commission with more detailed, meaningful and accessible invoices of what they have spent, boosting scrutiny and transparency over online vs offline spend.
- Strengthen the powers of the Electoral Commission to investigate malpractice and create a stronger deterrent against wrongdoing by increasing the maximum fine it can levy.
- Implement shorter reporting deadlines so that financial information from campaigns on their donations and spending is available to voters and the Commission more quickly after a campaign, or indeed, in 'real time'. Currently, voters have to wait far too long to see the state of the campaign.
- Regulate all donations by reducing 'permissibility check' requirements from £500 to 1p for all non-cash donations, and £500 to £20 for cash donations. The current rules are riddled with loopholes and haven't kept up with the digital age, raising the risks of foreign or unscrupulous interference.
- Create a publicly accessible, clear and consistent archive of paid-for political advertising. This archive should include details of each advert's source (name and address), who sponsored (paid) for it, and (for some) the country of origin.
- New controls created by social media companies to check that people or organisations who want to pay to place political adverts about elections and referendums in the UK are actually based in the UK or registered to vote here.
- New legislation clarifying that campaigning by non-UK actors is not allowed. Campaigners should not be able to accept money from companies that have not made enough money in the UK to fund the amount of their donation or loan.
- Legislate for a statutory code of practice for the use of personal information in political campaigns, to clarify the rules and ensure voters know their rights.
- A public awareness and digital literacy campaign which will better allow citizens to identify misinformation.
- Rationalise Britain's sprawling, Victorian-era electoral law under one consistent legislative framework.