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Paper 4 - 31 January 2003 Meeting

ASSOCIATION OF HAMPSHIRE AND ISLE OF WIGHT LOCAL AUTHORITIES

31 January 2003

OPEN MEETING WITH THE ELECTORAL COMMISSION - BACKGROUND NOTE ON HAMPSHIRE AND ISLE OF WIGHT AUTHORITIES

Report by the Policy Manager

INTRODUCTION

1.The Chairman of the Electoral Commission, Sam Younger, is meeting local authority Leaders and Chief Executives around the country to discuss modernising the electoral process. This particular meeting is for all Leaders and Chief Executives in the Hampshire and Isle of Wight area. Winchester City Council Chief Executive, David Cowan, who is a member of the Solace Electoral Matters Panel, a trainer for both Solace and the Law Society in Election Law and Practice, and is a member of one of the Commission's project boards, will be at the meeting. Malcolm Dumper of Southampton City Council has been invited as Chair of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Electoral Administrators’ Conference.

2.This paper gives some background to the Electoral Commission (paragraphs 3-6) and shows the results of a brief survey of Member authority initiatives.

THE ELECTORAL COMMISSION

3.The Electoral Commission is an independent body set up by Parliament. The Commission aims "to gain public confidence and encourage people to take part in the democratic process within the United Kingdom by modernising the electoral process, promoting public awareness of electoral matters, and regulating political parties".

4.On 1 April 2002, the Boundary Committee for England (formerly the Local Government Commission for England) became a statutory committee of the Electoral Commission. Its duties include reviewing local electoral boundaries.

5.The Commission’s functions are set out in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA). These include the following:

Modernisation

ˇ Reviewing electoral law and practice.
ˇ
Leading a series of policy reviews, examining issues, such as party political broadcasting, and funding electoral services.
ˇ
Testing new electoral procedures and evaluating pilot schemes.
ˇ Promoting best practice in electoral administration.

Education

ˇ Promoting awareness of electoral and democratic systems.

Regulation

ˇ Maintaining the register of political parties and other individuals and organisations who are regulated by the PPERA 2000.
ˇ
Monitoring the people who are regulated by the PPERA to make sure they work in line with the Act, and publishing reports on:

- election-campaign spending;
- donations to political parties and other regulated people who can receive donations; and
- political parties’ annual accounts.

Other duties include managing referendums and advising on matters relating to political broadcasting.

CONSULTATION PAPERS

6. The Electoral Commission has issued a series of consultation papers and Sam Younger will update the meeting:

Electoral registration (closes 28 February)
Ballot paper design (closes 3 March)
Nomination procedures (closes 4 March)
Absent Voting (October 2002)
On-line Campaigns (September 2002)
Funding democracy (September 2002)
Review of the PPERA
Party Political Broadcasting (June 2002).

All of these papers are available on the Electoral Commission website at www.electoralcommission.org.uk.

ELECTORAL REGISTRATION

7. The following initiatives have been taken by authorities in this area:

ˇ The organisation of a County wide radio campaign
ˇ
Registration leaflets in multi languages
ˇ
Allocation of language skilled canvassers in ethnic minority areas
ˇ
Personalised letters
ˇ
Widespread media/press advertising (H/IoW press officers are in touch over 2003 elections)
ˇ
Presentations to Student Unions
ˇ
Static exhibitions in public areas (e.g. West Quay, Southampton).
ˇ
Personalised follow-up visits (e.g. Havant and the Isle of Wight)
ˇ
Blank Voter Registration forms via Council Tax notifications to all properties notified as having new residents (Isle of Wight)
ˇ
Payment of canvassers by result (Fareham)
ˇ
Canvassing residents who fail to respond to voter registration forms (Fareham).

Basingstoke and Deane report the following two initiatives:

Telephone Registration

For the annual audit of the Register this year, door to door canvassing was abandoned in favour of a full postal canvass. Pre-printed forms were sent to approximately 63,500 households. Where there was no change to the information held on a particular property the occupiers were given the opportunity to confirm their registration by telephone. A freephone number was printed on all forms and information on this service was included with the form A. Electors could also choose to opt out of the Edited Register using this service. Approximately 15,500 residents successfully used this service. This is the first time this type of canvass has been done and it is considered to have been a great success. It is hoped to build on this success for future canvasses.

Mini-Canvass

Since the introduction of rolling registration we have conducted a "mini-canvass" of all households in February in an effort to get the Register of Electors as accurate as possible for the May elections. The mini-canvass involves writing a letter to all households detailing who we have registered at the property. If the details are incorrect they are asked to complete the form printed on the reverse of the letter and return it to us using the Freepost address provided. The "mini-canvass" is considered a great success and will continue.

POSTAL VOTING

8. ˇ In 2000, Eastleigh Borough Council ran one of the original election pilots. In advance of the new legislative changes, all electors were entitled to a postal vote. The outcome was a four-fold increase in the number of postal votes - and around 75% of those issued with a postal vote, used it.

ˇ Authorities publicise the availability of the postal vote option in their own and other media.

ˇ Basingstoke and Deane - request for a postal vote application was included in the Form A and approximately 5,000 postal vote applications were sent out. In addition to this a postal application was included with all rolling registration forms which were sent out. At the May 2002 elections a postal vote application was included with every poll card and this will be repeated for the May 2003 elections.

ELECTIONS

9.ˇ Basingstoke and Deane will be applying for pilot status for the May 2003 elections. The pilot will be made up as follows: touch-screen voting at all polling stations; e-counting of postal votes; watermark on all postal ballot papers; simplified Declaration of Identity (no need for a witness); contracting out the issue of postal votes.

ˇ Rushmoor has also bid to carry out an e-voting pilot.

FRAUD

10.Havant Borough Council has highlighted concerns about voter fraud. The Council has submitted the following extract from a "Parliamentary Bulletin for Local Government":

"The Electoral Reform Society has called for a "significant" shake-up for the system for postal and proxy voting. Following its review of absent voting procedures, the CEO of Electoral Reform, Ken Ritchie, identified "voter fraud" as the "biggest danger to our current system". He would like to see proxy votes abolished, except in very special circumstances.

The Electoral Reform Society has also backed the creation of a specific offence of fraudulently applying for a postal vote. They argue that returning officers need to take the lead in combatting voter fraud, and describe current checks as "somewhat derisory".

Part of the problem, say Electoral Reform, is the "wholesaling" of postal votes; this is the practice of sending large numbers of postal votes to a single address, often a party activist, who is supposed to take the forms round so that voters can fill them in. In practice, claims Mr Ritchie, there is a risk that "undue influence" is placed on voters and that the secrecy of the ballot box is being compromised."

The Commission has already included the issue of Fraud in most of its consultation papers, in relation to the individual topics.

NICK GOULDER
Policy Manager

Date: 20 January 2003
Annex: 0
Contact:Nick Goulder - 023 8068 8431, E-mail hiow@eastleigh.gov.uk

Last update: 21/01/2003
Author: Nick Goulder, Policy Manager

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