“The head of the elections watchdog has demanded urgent reform of the UK’s electoral laws and warned that the country faces a “perfect storm” of threats that could put the integrity of the system at risk.
Sir John Holmes, the chair of the Electoral Commission, also confirmed to the Guardian that the body has launched an inquiry into possible Russian interference in the EU referendum and is waiting for evidence from Facebook, Google and Twitter.
The regulator said that in order to police the electoral system properly, and hold politicians and campaigns to account, wholesale changes were necessary.
“We must avoid complacency to stop a perfect storm from forming which would put out democratic processes in peril,” he said.
In an interview with the Guardian, Holmes outlined a set of reform proposals which include:
New rules to require political campaigners to identify themselves on online advertising to combat Russian or other external interference in elections.
Increases in fines for political parties that find ways around election spending laws or fail to declare the source of their funding.
A new system requiring all voters to show photographic ID in polling stations.
A move away from only conducting votes on Thursdays and in schools or community halls. …
… “Electoral legislation is old, complicated and needs changing. There are proposals to do that. The government needs to give it legislative time,” Holmes said. …
… Following investigations into how the Conservative party moved campaigners and staff from its national headquarters to boost local party efforts in 2014 and 2015 – without properly declaring their hotel bills and expenses – the party was fined £70,000.
However, Holmes said the level of fines has to be increased to stop parties from taking such risks.
“Our ability to fine £20,000 for any single offence is not enough as an effective deterrent,” he said.
“Looking at the fines other regulators can apply, £20,000 looks fairly minimal. We think it should be bigger.”
Holmes also said the government should consider extending the use of photo identification at polling stations.
This suggestion follows allegations of widespread voting fraud, particularly around Asian communities in Birmingham, Bradford and east London.
The commission recommended in 2014 that voters should be required to prove their identities before casting a ballot, in the wake of widespread voter fraud in Tower Hamlets.
Critics of the plan say it potentially disenfranchises large numbers of people on low incomes who do not have photo ID.
Voting laws should also be reformed to allow new ways of voting, Holmes added.
“We should look at changes for a new generation of millennials who are the digital generation.
“We are not saying that we should move now to online voting because of the risks of hacking but that doesn’t mean that nothing ought to change.
“We need to ask ourselves whether voting on a Thursday in an old school building is the only way we can do this.”
The commission will release a report on Wednesday into the performance of returning officers at this year’s general election, with Holmes set to outline his proposalsin a speech to the Institute for Government later in the day.”