Thank you for contacting me about the Elections Bill.
A secure electoral system is a vital component of a healthy democracy. The Elections Bill will update elections law and deliver on manifesto commitments to protect our democracy and ensure that it remains secure, transparent and fair. It includes provisions on, overseas electors, the voting rights of EU citizens, the accessibility of polls, identification to vote at polling stations and digital imprints as well as provisions aimed at tackling postal vote fraud, undue influence and intimidation at elections.
Identification to vote has been backed by the Electoral Commission and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, which state that its absence is a security risk.
In Northern Ireland voters have been required to produce personal identification before voting in polling stations since 1985, with photographic identification being required since 2003 when introduced by the last Labour Government. Ministers at the time noted that “the Government have no intention of taking away people’s democratic right to vote. If we believed that thousands of voters would not be able to vote because of this measure, we would not be introducing it at this time.”
The Electoral Commission has also commented that “since the introduction of photo ID in Northern Ireland there have been no reported cases of personation. Voters’ confidence that elections are well-run in Northern Ireland is consistently higher than in Great Britain, and there are virtually no allegations of electoral fraud at polling stations.”
Under the Government’s proposals, anyone without an ID will be able to apply for a new free one – meaning that no voter will be disenfranchised. I believe that a secure electoral system is a vital component of a healthy democracy, and the public must have confidence that our elections are secure and fit for the 21st century.
Clarification of Undue Influence
A core aspect of our democracy is that electors should be able to cast their vote without undue external influence. Although it is already an offence to unduly influence a voter, the current outdated legislation requires modernisation. The Bill updates electoral law so that undue influence covers a wider range of harms such as damage to reputation, spiritual pressure or financial loss. Deceiving an elector on the conduct of an election and intimidation at polling stations will also amount to undue influence, addressing concerns raised by the Election Court in the Tower Hamlets mayoralty case.
Dual Registration for Students
There are no restrictions in the Elections Bill on the ability of students to register to vote at their home address or term-time address. I would encourage any student to register in the constituency in which they are most likely to reside in order to ensure that they can exercise their right to vote.
I understand concerns about civil society organisations being prevented from adding their voice to the debate but let me assure you that this would not be the case. I recognise the important role CSOs play in providing valuable information on a variety of policies. The Bill instead aims to make elections fairer and more transparent by requiring greater transparency from campaigners.
Clauses 24 of the Bill, for instance, would require third party campaigns to give notice to the Electoral Commission at a lower level of expenditure that is currently required. Clause 25 would require campaign spending, which is part of a joint plan between a registered party and a third party or parties, to be counted as part of the spending limits of all parties involved.
I believe that joint campaigning has an important role to play in our electoral system but it should be transparently and fairly regulated particularly when it could be regarded as intending to achieve a common purpose.
The Elections Bill, more broadly, responds to recommendations in Lord Pickles’ report into election fraud published in 2016 and builds upon long-term objectives set out in the Government’s wider Defending Democracy Programme. The changes it will introduce alongside the Online Safety Bill and the Counter-State Threats Bill will protect our democracy from new and evolving threats and underpin the systems which support it.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP