Electoral Commission – unfit due to modern loopholes

“Craig Mackinlay, the Conservative MP who was cleared while a senior Conservative official was convicted over election expenses, has some very critical things to say about the Electoral Commission.

Writing for PoliticsHome after his acquittal, the Conservative MP said:

“It is their responsibility to interpret the law into understandable guidance for candidates and agents and have extra-statutory authority to produce guidance and rules to assist the electoral process. During the trial, the prosecution spent days considering the status of personalised and party generic Correx boards. Conservative Party guidance recommends a 4x potential use. If such plastic posters survive defacement or vandalism that characterises many election campaigns, they could last for many years. The Prosecution and Electoral Commission disputed that view, long held by the party. The Electoral Commission publishes not one word of guidance as to how to account for such boards, how to deal with criminal damage and replacements, relying on the vacuous phrase ‘honest assessment’. To face potential criminal conviction with life-changing consequences on the back of scant guidance cannot be right.”

That is but one of a range of details over which the Electoral Commission’s guidance is indeed unhelpful. Sometimes the Electoral Commission has played with being weirdly prescriptive. (I still remember the discussion I had with them about depreciation rules for party rosettes.) Often however it has also – as the above example illustrates – super-cautiously vague.

Part of the problem, I suspect, is that lack of detailed knowledge in the Electoral Commission, an absence of knowledge bizarrely illustrated by its mistakes over pencils:

https://www.markpack.org.uk/143476/indelible-pencils/

A much bigger problem, however, is one that MPs such as Craig Mackinlay share with the Electoral Commission. Even if no-one breaks the law, the rules limiting constituency expenditure have collapsed because so much can now be done that is charged against the much more generous national limit.

What used to be a tight limit on constituency expenditure set by the law is now in effect a massively generous limit set by the size of your bank account. See the full details here:

https://www.markpack.org.uk/130283/internet-speeds-up-the-killing-off-of-expense-controls-in-marginal-seats/

Neither MPs nor regulators have done anything so far other than sit on the sidelines, often apparently oblivious and always unresponsive to this collapse.”

https://www.markpack.org.uk/157315/craig-mackinlay-electoral-commission/

“The government’s voter ID plans are ‘rearranging the deckchairs’ in the face of new threats to our democracy”

“On May 3rd 2018, 350 people were denied a vote in their local council elections. Their crime? Not possessing the right ID. The minister hailed these trials of mandatory voter ID as a ‘success’. The government must have a strange definition of success.

The scheme disenfranchised far more ordinary voters than potential wrongdoers: in a single day across the five councils, twice as many people didn’t vote due to having incorrect ID as have been accused of personation in eight years across the whole of the UK.

Out of 45 million votes last year, there were just 28 allegations of ‘personation’ (only one was solid enough to result in conviction). And yet the government seems determined to pursue voter ID, a policy we now know could cost up to £20 million per general election. This change to how we vote is a marked departure from the trust-based British way of running elections, and with little evidence to justify it.

It’s claimed that mandatory voter ID could boost faith in the democratic process. Yet according to academic research, 99 percent of election staff do not think fraud has occurred in their polling stations. Eighty-eight percent (88%) of the public say they think our polling stations are safe. And studies show that more accessible elections have greater electoral integrity – not the other way round.

The policy of mandatory strict ID presents a significant risk to democratic access and equality. Millions of people lack the strictest forms of required documentation. Documentation that is costly to acquire. It’s one of the reasons why organisations from the Runnymede Trust to the Salvation Army and Stonewall are concerned about these plans. The Windrush scandal earlier this year highlighted exactly the difficulties some legitimate voters could have in accessing identity documents – through no fault of their own.

If mandatory ID were to be rolled out nationally, it could potentially result in tens of thousands of voters being denied a say. And it would hit the already marginalised hardest: poorer C2DE social grade voters were half as likely to say they were aware of the ID requirements before the trials this May. And despite the costly publicity campaign this time, after election day, an average of around a quarter of residents were not aware of the pilots in four of the council areas – around four in 10 were not aware in Watford.

Imposing ID could have a significant impact on election outcomes, too. Thirteen seats were won at the 2017 Parliamentary election with a majority less than the number of people denied a vote in Bromley alone this May.

Yet still the government insists on running more trials of mandatory ID despite a broader commitment to improve democratic engagement and access. It is clear that much work needs to be done to remove barriers to voting, not to construct new ones. The most widespread problem poll staff have highlighted is voters turning up and not being on the register. Access for voters with disabilities is also a frequently cited problem.

We’ve learnt a lot this year, with our election and information regulators and parliamentarians highlighting the shocking state of the unregulated ‘wild west’ that is online campaigning. From the spread of disinformation, to secret political donations and ‘dark ads’, the real threats to our democracy are becoming clear.

In the face of these challenges, imposing voter ID is like rearranging the deckchairs of our democracy while we head towards an iceberg. The crucial task for government now is to focus on the real problems – we need to get to work solving them.”

Full report here:
https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/publications/a-sledgehammer-to-crack-a-nut-the-2018-voter-id-trials/

https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/the-governments-voter-id-plans-are-rearranging-the-deckchairs-in-the-face-of-new-threats-to-our-democracy/

“DUP fined £1,000 over ‘inaccurate’ loan reporting”

Owl says: remarkable how this article gives no details of EXACTLY what the DUP did wrong, how much money was involved and borrowed from whom, for how long and at what rate of interest! Transparency my …..!

“THE DUP has been fined £1,000 by the Electoral Commission for “inaccurate” loan reporting.

The watchdog imposed two fines worth £500 each, which were paid earlier this month, its latest report disclosed.

In a statement it said: “The Commission considered, in accordance with the enforcement policy, that sanctions were appropriate in this case.”

Ann Watt, head of the Electoral Commission in Northern Ireland, added: “The reporting requirements are clear, so it is always disappointing when parties fail to comply.

“It’s vital that voters are given an opportunity to see accurate and full reportable data on what parties spend money on in order to influence them at elections and referendums.

“This provides transparency in the political finance system and is open for anyone to scrutinise.

“The Commission will continue to enforce these requirements on all parties and campaigners to ensure voters have the information they need.”

The Traditional Unionist Voice was also fined £1,000 for late delivery of a spending return for last year’s general election. The fine was due to be paid earlier this month.”

http://www.irishnews.com/news/politicalnews/2018/08/21/news/dup-fined-1-000-over-inaccurate-loan-reporting-1412808/

So many problems worrying the Electoral Reform Society …

Why it’s time to shine a light on ‘dark ads’ online:
https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/why-its-time-to-shine-a-light-on-dark-ads-online/

In these divided times, a new consensus is emerging around our broken election laws:
https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/in-these-divided-times-a-new-consensus-is-emerging-around-our-broken-election-laws/

Our democracy faces many threats – but the government has picked the wrong priority:
https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/our-democracy-faces-many-threats-but-the-government-has-picked-the-wrong-priority/

Campaign regulation is needed now before all trust is gone:
https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/campaign-regulation-is-needed-now-before-all-trust-is-gone/

“UK democracy under threat and reform is urgent, says electoral regulator”

“The Electoral Commission has called for urgent reforms to electoral law after a series of online political campaign scandals, acknowledging concerns that British democracy “may be under threat”.

Following a series of revelations involving the likes of Cambridge Analytica, the elections regulator has asked Westminster and the devolved governments to change the law in order to combat misinformation, misuse of personal data and overseas interference in elections.

Among other recommendations, the Electoral Commission has called for:

A change in the law to require all digital political campaign material to state who paid for it, bringing online adverts in line with physical leaflets and adverts.

New legislation to make it clear that spending in UK elections and referendums by foreign organisations and individuals is not allowed.
An increase in the maximum fine, currently £20,000 per offence, that the Electoral Commission can impose on organisations and individuals who break the rules.

Tougher requirements for political campaigns to declare their spending soon after or during a campaign, rather than months later.

A requirement for all campaigners to provide more detailed paperwork on how they spent money online.

The intervention follows years of debate about the largely unregulated world of online political campaigning in the aftermath of the 2016 EU referendum and Donald Trump’s election as US president.

“Urgent action must be taken by the UK’s governments to ensure that the tools used to regulate political campaigning online continue to be fit for purpose in a digital age,” said Sir John Holmes, chair of the Electoral Commission.

“Implementing our package of recommendations will significantly increase transparency about who is seeking to influence voters online, and the money spent on this at UK elections and referendums.”

His organisation also backed proposals to publish a database of political advertisements that will enable the public “to see what adverts a campaigner has taken out and how much they paid”. Facebook is already due to launch such a facility for UK political adverts within the coming months.

The regulator, alluding to foreign governments such as Russia, also raised concerns that there is currently no explicit ban on overseas organisations buying online political ads aimed at a British audience. …

… A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The government is committed to increasing transparency in digital campaigning in order to maintain a fair and proportionate democratic process, and we will be consulting on proposals for new imprint requirements on electronic campaigning in due course.”

The Electoral Commission has also asked for the power to investigate individual political candidates if they have broken constituency spending limits in general elections. At the moment only the police can investigate such allegations, resulting in the long-running investigation into Tory candidates’ spending on battle buses, which was dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service due to insufficient evidence.

Other proposals include pushing political parties to count online advertising targeted at local constituencies within individual candidate spending limits – which can be as low as £10,000 – rather than as part of national campaigns which are allowed to spend up to £19.5m. During the 2017 general election the Conservatives were able to target Facebook ads regarding local issues at individuals in specific constituencies and count it as national spending – just so long as they didn’t mention the name of the local Tory candidate.

Both Labour and the Conservatives spent substantial sums of money on online promotions during the last general election, with digital spending accounting for more than 40% of all advertising spending by political parties in 2017. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/jun/26/uk-democracy-under-threat-and-reform-is-urgent-says-electoral-regulator

“Downing Street Accused Of Burying Electoral Commission Investigation Into Theresa May’s Advisors”

“Downing Street has been accused of pushing through key Brexit votes before MPs know the result of an investigation into whether Theresa May’s advisors broke the law during the EU Referendum

Stephen Parkinson, the PM’s political secretary, and Cleo Watson – also a Downing Street staffer – are both being investigated by the Electoral Commission as part of an inquiry into whether the official Brexit campaign broke spending limits.

The investigation was launched in November, but the Electoral Commission has now presented its findings to those under investigation. They have 28 days to provide a response to the conclusion before the report is made public.

Labour’s Deputy Leader Tom Watson is questioning if the votes on the EU Withdrawal Bill – planned for Tuesday and Wednesday – are being rushed through before MPs have the chance to consider the results of the investigation.

He said: “Each day the plot thickens about the murky dealings of the various Brexit campaigns.

“Now it seems senior figures at the heart of Number 10 who were involved in Vote Leave could have been informed about the contents of this important Electoral Commission investigation long before anyone else.

“If that’s true Number 10 would have had time to plan and even ensure key Brexit votes like the ones this week could happen before the investigation
should really still be shaping and taking decisions at the heart of Government.”

The investigation centres around payments made by Vote Leave to clear debts of £625,000 run up by university student Darren Grimes with the digital campaign company AggregateIQ Data.

Grimes – who ran the BeLeave group – was allowed by electoral law to spend £700,000 in the campaign.

As the official campaign group, Vote Leave could spend £7million, and if it had commissioned and spent that £625,000 itself it would have breached the spending limits.

The Electoral Commission initially accepted the Vote Leave argument that it had donated the money to Grimes, despite settling the bill with AggregateIQ directly.

A separate group, Veterans for Britain, also received £100,000 from Vote Leave.

But in November it reopened its investigation, claiming new information had come to light.

Downing Street is drawn into the investigation as Stephen Parkinson – the PM’s Political Secretary – was National Organiser for Vote Leave during the referendum campaign.

He is accused by former Vote Leave volunteer Shahmir Sanni of directing how BeLeave should spend money – something which would be a breach of electoral law.

In March, Parkinson revealed he and Sanni had been in a relationship as part of his denial, prompting Sanni to claim his family in Pakistan – who did not know he was gay – were forced to take “urgent protective measures” for their own safety.”

https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/downing-street-brexit-electoral-commission_uk_5b1e58a0e4b0adfb826bbe6e?guccounter=1