Thu, 18 August 2022

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By Nikki da Costa
Press releases

Electoral law poses 'serious and unnecessary risks' and urgently needs reform, MPs warn

Electoral law poses 'serious and unnecessary risks' and urgently needs reform, MPs warn
3 min read

UK electoral law poses “serious and unnecessary risks” for voters, parties and candidates and could threaten public confidence, MPs have warned.

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) said the next Government must overhaul the existing “sprawling and complicated” system, ahead of next month's general election.

In its report, titled 'Electoral Law: the urgent need for review', MPs found that current legislation is “sometimes contradictory” and difficult to navigate for all involved in the electoral process.

MPs warned even compliance teams within political parties find it difficult to know with “complete confidence” if they have followed the law correctly.

Administrators and those challenging elections face a “similarly bewildering series of risks and difficulties” in the “outdated” election petition system, MPs say.

PACAC chair Sir Bernard Jenkin said: “As voters prepare to head to the polls, they ought to do so with full confidence that the system underpinning our democracy is robust, fit for purpose, and properly safeguarded against attempts to subvert it. 

“Similarly, those involved in the administration of elections, those running for office and those assisting their candidacies are entitled to clarity about what is expected of them. 

“PACAC’s report concludes that the sprawling, complicated nature of current electoral law makes achieving such confidence and clarity an uphill task at best.”

The cross-party body also warned the Government to take “extreme caution” over whether to enforce the need for voter ID at polling stations, “given the lack of robust evidence as to their value for money.”

Theyalso called for more pilot studies to go ahead, while welcoming Government plans to make intimidation of campaigners and candidates during an election period an electoral offence. 

MPs also warned that recommendations made by the Law Commission to make electoral rules fit for purpose in 2016, had made little progress to date, and called for the body’s full report in 2020 to be the basis of future changes.

Mr Jenkin added: “The Law Commission’s 2016 recommendations, if implemented, would have gone a long way towards addressing various shortcomings. It is essential that whatever the outcome of the election in December, consultation and legislation on electoral law reform must follow the Law Commission’s 2020 review without delay.”

Shadow Cabinet Office minister, Cat Smith, said: "This damning report highlights the wilful neglect of this government towards our electoral system.

"Labour has consistently called on the government to reform our 19th century electoral laws, but the government has done nothing to address this."

The Electoral Reform Society also welcomed the committee's findings, particularly over the advice for voter ID reforms.

The organisation's chief executive Darren Hughes added: "For too long our regulations have been unfit for purpose and in need of immediate attention. But we also need to go beyond simply consolidating and simplifying our electoral law as proposed – we need a comprehensive overhaul of the rules that govern our democracy.

“But we cannot keep kicking the can down the road. With an election just weeks away it is more important than ever that we make the vital changes to secure the integrity of our electoral process and maintain public faith in our democratic systems.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "The final Law Commission report, when published, will provide further insight on the framework of our electoral law and will need to be carefully considered before decisions are made about reforms to regulation.

"The government has worked tirelessly to protect and strengthen democracy in the UK. As we head into this election, it is important to remember that, thanks to the hard work, dedication and professionalism of many thousands of electoral services staff, we continue to benefit from a robust, fair and transparent electoral system."

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