“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

“The plan to cut MPs looks suspiciously like a power grab”

“Are we witnessing a power grab?

Six months ago, reports suggested that the Prime Minister had dropped plans to force through a cut in MPs, a cut linked with the ongoing review of constituency boundaries.

It turns out there has been a u-turn on the u-turn, with news emerging that the PM is set to reduce the number of MPs.

That’s despite the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee warning that moves to cut numbers to 600 are unlikely to secure the backing of MPs.

But why the fuss?

The issue comes down to a very ill-thought plan for new constituencies – alongside some clear democratic dangers when it comes to reducing voters’ representation.

The cut in MPs actually represents a cut in backbenchers if there are no plans to cap/cut the size of the executive or ‘payroll vote’ correspondingly.

Parliament will gain more powers after Brexit yet will have less capacity to scrutinise legislation. At the same time voters lose their representatives in Europe. That places a greater burden on the Commons and a lack of capacity poses significant risks.

The democratic dangers are clear. ERS research in 2016 showed that in a smaller, 600-seat Commons, nearly one in four (23%) MPs would be on the government payroll if the parties’ proportion of MPs – and the total number of ministers and whips – stayed the same – an all-time high, and up from the 21% at present (figures as of November 2016).

The more you look at it, the more cutting backbenchers at the same as bolstering the executive looks to many like a worrying power-grab.

But there’s another factor – the unelected Lords. It’s just common sense that the cut in democratically elected representatives cannot go ahead while the House of Lords remains the second largest chamber in the world, with around 800 members.

If the government are concerned about reducing the cost of politics, they would do well to deal with the over-sized second chamber.

Voters need real representation in the Commons to provide the essential scrutiny and capacity we need: both for now and when we gain new powers after Brexit.

But there are problems with the boundary changes regardless of the cut in MPs. For a start, the new boundaries will be based on highly incomplete as well as out of date data. For example, people who registered to vote for the EU referendum won’t be counted for the new boundaries – skewing representation.

At the same time, the government has set an arbitrary 5% maximum difference in the size of the new constituencies. That risks awkwardly splitting up communities or grafting very different towns/counties onto each other – just look at the controversial Devonwall proposals.

Finally, unregistered but eligible voters are not being considered when drawing up these constituency boundaries – even though they will still need support and representation from their MP. This disadvantages poorer constituencies – they end up with lower representation, often despite greater need.

Far from reducing political representation and weakening voters’ voices, the Prime Minister should cancel the proposed cut in MPs – and move forward with fair boundaries based on a properly resourced Commons.

Read the ERS’ full views on the boundary changes here:

https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/campaigns/upgrading-our-democracy/fair-boundaries/ and here https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/cutting-the-number-of-mps-will-have-consequences-lets-get-this-right/

“Electoral Commission clears Remain campaign over allegations from Conservative MP”

The complaint was made by ex-Tory Minister Priti Patel, who was fired from (sorry “resigned from”) Theresa May’s Cabinet for having had numerous unauthorised meetings with Israeli politicians while “on holiday” in the country.

”Claims by Conservative MP and high-profile Leave campaigner Priti Patel that the Remain campaign broke the law during the European referendum have fallen apart under investigation from the Electoral Commission:

Former Cabinet minister and Brexiteer Priti Patel had … alleged that Britain Stronger in Europe failed to report joint spending with Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories.

But the Electoral Commission said it did not have “reasonable grounds” to believe the official Britain Stronger in Europe (BSiE) group exceeded its spending limits and would not be opening an investigation.

In a letter to Ms Patel, the commission’s head of regulation Louise Edwards said: “Following examination we are satisfied that while liaison took place there is no evidence of joint spending as a result.

“The evidence indicates that the meetings were advisory in nature, focused on communications and did not involve or result in decisions on referendum spending, or the coordination of campaign activities across campaigners, as part of a common plan or other arrangement.” [Daily Mirror]

What has, however, stood up to scrutiny is a long list of rule breaking by anti-EU campaigners:

Nigel Farage fined half his salary
Brexit campaigners fined for sending 500,000 spam SMS
Record £12,000 fine for Brexit campaigner
Brexit campaigner fined £1,500
Two Brexit campaigners fined £1,000 each
11 anti-EU campaign groups struck off”

The full, very strongly worded letter from the Electoral Commission to Ms Patel is here:

https://www.markpack.org.uk/153854/priti-patel-remain-campaign/