Government’s proposals on Electoral Administration

14 July 2011

The Government yesterday published further proposals to reform the law on Electoral Administration.

Draft provisions

  • extend the electoral timetable for UK Parliamentary elections from 17 to 25 working days and, in doing so, adjust a number of the deadlines within the timetable (in particular the date for delivery of nominations) which are fixed to the start of the electoral timetable;
  • make changes to the timing of polling place reviews in Great Britain;
  • enable a UK Parliamentary election candidate jointly nominated by two or more registered political parties to use on the ballot paper an emblem registered by one of the nominating parties.

The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee will be examining these new proposals at the same time as it considers the Government’s proposals for Individual Electoral Registration, published two weeks ago.

Letter from Mark Harper MP, Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform, to Graham Allen MP, Chair of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, House of Commons, 13 July 2011

Electoral administration provisions- publication of draft legislation on Wednesday 13 July

I am writing to inform you that the Government is publishing today draft legislation on three electoral administration provisions for pre-legislative scrutiny. The draft legislation is accompanied by Explanatory Notes in order to assist the reader of the provisions and to help inform consideration of them.

The draft legislation is intended to form part of a larger package of measures which will also include draft legislation on individual electoral registration (IER) which, as you know, has been published separately for pre-legislative scrutiny. The draft legislation addresses particular issues that have been raised by MPs and peers, and by electoral stakeholders, and proposes practical and sensible changes that will help to deliver more effective electoral administration.

The draft legislation includes provisions which extend the timetable for UK parliamentary elections from 17 to 25 days and similarly extends the timetable for UK parliamentary by-elections. It is worth noting that the timetable provisions do not currently take into account the IER proposals, in that they are drafted to amend the current version of the Representation of the People Act 1983 and not the Act as it will be amended by the IER provisions. The drafting will of course be consistent when the provisions are introduced in a single Bill.

Extending the timetable for UK Parliamentary elections and by-elections will bring benefits for voters, in particular overseas and service voters, and administrators, as well as adding to the robustness and integrity of the electoral process. I propose that, within this extended timetable:

  • the deadline for parties to nominate candidates should continue to be 6 days after the start of the timetable. In practice this will now be 19, rather than 11, days before the date of poll, which will allow administrators to begin printing ballot papers further in advance of the poll;
  • provision should be made for updated versions of the electoral register to be created at an earlier point in the timetable to allow postal votes to be distributed to new registration applicants earlier than is currently possible.

I also propose to address an oversight in existing legislation passed during the previous Government's time in office which allows a candidate standing for a single party in a UK Parliamentary election to use an emblem on their ballot paper, but does not allow jointly-nominated candidates to do so. This issue has primarily affected candidates standing on behalf of the Labour Party and the Co-operative Party. The proposal will ensure that electoral law is consistent on this issue.

The draft legislation also makes changes to the existing system for reviews of polling districts and places in Great Britain for UK Parliamentary elections to bring them in line with the five year cycle for UK Parliamentary boundary reviews implemented by the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 and the proposed cycle of Parliamentary terms under the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill.

I would like to highlight two particular issues that we have considered in developing the draft legislation in light of representations from stakeholders but have not made provision for in the published draft legislation. It would be very helpful if views could be welcomed from stakeholders as part of the pre-legislative scrutiny process.

The first issue is that, in the context of the proposal to extend the electoral timetable, whether the deadline for postal vote applications (but not the deadline for registration applications which would stay at 11 days before the date of the poll) should be moved further in advance of the date of the poll, for example, from 11 to 19 working days. If stakeholders support this alternative proposal to that set out in the Bill, it would be helpful to invite them to make an evidence based case for it. We considered this approach when developing the extended timetable provisions and we think this change would make it possible for the whole postal vote issuing process to be completed within a week of the 19 day deadline, shortly after the 14th day prior to polling day. However, whilst the option would retain the benefit for electors of being able to register up to 11 days before polling day as now, it would reduce their flexibility to obtain a postal vote. Some have argued that this change would ease pressures round the processes for issuing postal votes. On balance, we do not favour this approach because we do not wish to constrain the existing flexibility for electors but we recognise that some stakeholders would prefer this approach and we would welcome their submissions.

Secondly, we would welcome views on whether the deadline for appointing polling and counting agents by candidates at an election should be further in advance of polling day. for example, 5 working days. The role of these agents is to scrutinise the running of the poll during voting, the opening of postal votes and the counting of votes, and assist in identifying any issues with the conduct and integrity of the poll. Currently the deadline for appointing the agents is 2 working days before the poll. Anecdotal evidence from stakeholders suggests that it would be helpful if the deadline was moved to an earlier point in the timetable, in order to ease pressure on administrative processes during what is inevitably a very busy final few days before the poll. A possible change is that the deadline for appointing polling and counting agents is moved to 5 working days before the date of the poll. Again. we would welcome views on this issue, including from the political parties.

In publishing this draft legislation for pre-legislative scrutiny we look forward to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee's Report later this year.

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