Labour councillor cautioned for voting twice in election

“Faisal Rana, a Labour councillor in Rochdale, has been cautioned by the police after admitting voting twice in May’s elections for the location council.

Cllr Rana has properties in two different wards and joined the electoral register at both addresses. The wards are in different Parliamentary constituencies but both within Rochdale council. Faisal Rana cast votes in both wards at the Rochdale council elections earlier this year.

It is legal to be registered in more than one place, such as students who can register both at home and at university if they have gone away for university. But it is illegal to vote more than once for the same body. One of those example students could, for example, vote in both places at council elections if they are for different local councils. They could only vote once in a general election.

Faisal Rana said:

I have accepted a police caution for an electoral offence, which relates to me casting separate votes for two different wards in two different Constituencies (Spotland and Falinge, and Norden Ward) in the local elections earlier this year.

I legally registered my votes by providing my genuine national insurance number, date of birth and addresses and when I received these through the post I thought it would have been OK and that is why they issued me two ballots for two constituencies.

I did not realise this was an offence and misinterpreted the rule that says it is possible to vote in two different electoral areas.

Cllr Rana had held the assistant finance portfolio in the ruling Labour group. He is now reported to have “stepped away” from the role.”

“Chief exec suspended over election failures leaves council by mutual consent”

Amongst other things, our CEO “misplaced” 6,000 voters by using inadequate means of registering them and had to explain himself (not terribly well in Owl’s opinion) to a Parliamentary committee:

“A chief executive who was suspended over failures in the running of the 2017 general election process has left by mutual consent.

John Sellgren was suspended from his post at Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council in November 2017 after a review by Andrew Scallon, of the Association of Electoral Administrators, which found that more than 500 postal voters were disenfranchised, and close to 1,000 potential electors not included on the register.

A statement from the council on Sellgren’s departure said: “We would like to place on record our thanks for John’s efforts during his seven years with us. The council recently had its first all-out elections and the new administration has an ambitious manifesto and many significant projects to deliver in the years ahead.

“With this in mind the authority will now consider what management leadership arrangements to put in place to support this programme.”

Sellgren said: “I have enjoyed my time at Newcastle and send my best wishes to the dedicated team of staff and partners with whom it has been a pleasure to have worked.”

The council said it wanted to point out that there had been no additional payments made to Mr Sellgren.

Labour’s Paul Farrelly held the Newcastle-under-Lyme seat by 30 votes with 21,124 to his Conservative rival’s 21,094.

The Scallon report was commissioned shortly after the election when claims were made that some students at Keele University and postal voters were unable to vote despite following the correct procedures.
Some said they were turned away from polling stations despite having polling cards with them, and others who said they had registered to vote by the deadline were turned away for not having provided extra information required.

Scallon’s report said: “Human error and judgement and a lack of knowledge were responsible for the things that went wrong and led to the disenfranchisement of a significant number of people, raising questions about the mandate of the candidate declared elected as Newcastle-under-Lyme’s member of Parliament.”

He noted inadequate performance by Mr Sellgren (as acting returning officer/electoral registration officer) and consultants, worsened by a lack of experience among elections office staff and over-reliance on a software system, which was not properly managed.”

So many problems worrying the Electoral Reform Society …

Why it’s time to shine a light on ‘dark ads’ online:

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:

Campaign regulation is needed now before all trust is gone:

Voter registration for 2019 local elections begins

Owl says: keep an eye out for house-to-house canvassers for those who do not register. They have been few and far between in recent years, leading to around 6,000 eligible voters having been “missed”, leading to embarrassing questions (and answers) to EDDC’s Electoral Registration Officer (EDDC CEO Mark Williams, paid extra for this job) in Parliament:

“As part of East Devon’s annual voter registration canvass, households will soon be receiving a form asking residents to check whether the information that appears on the electoral register for those living at their address is correct.

The aim of the form is to ensure that the electoral register is up to date and to identify any residents who are not registered so that they can be encouraged to do so.

Local district, town and parish council elections are scheduled to take place in May 2019.”

People are urged to take the opportunity to make sure that when the elections take place, they will easily be able to take part.

Any residents who have any questions can contact the electoral services team at or on 01395 571529

New all-party push for proportional representation

This week is the first National Democracy Week – a rare moment to put the ‘nuts and bolts’ of democracy on the agenda.

The elections of the past year have shown that Westminster’s First Past the Post system is failing at the lowest democratic hurdle – allowing everyone to participate equally in our politics.

One in five people felt forced to ‘hold their nose’ and opt for a lesser evil rather than their preferred candidate in 2017’s General Election.

68% of votes had no impact on the result – going to either unsuccessful candidates or being ‘surplus to requirements’. Under the Westminster’s system, all that is required for victory is a majority of one.

And the system is exaggerating divisions in the UK – Labour secured 29% of the vote in the South East but got just 10% of seats, while the Conservatives won 34% of the North East vote but got just 9% of seats.

This isn’t some anomaly – this is built into a stone-age system where having one more cross in the box than the rest is all that counts: every other vote goes to waste.

But Westminster’s system can’t even do what it says on the tin – produce ‘strong’ single-party government. The Conservatives were required to make an agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to ensure it could govern with any degree of reliability.

These serious flaws in the Westminster system are why today, during the first National Democracy Week, we are marking the relaunch of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Proportional Representation.

This will see MPs from across the political spectrum meet to support a change in the voting system – to one which better matches seats in the House of Commons to how people actually voted.

It will be chaired by Labour MP Daniel Zeichner, joined by Martyn Day MP (SNP), Wera Hobhouse MP (Liberal Democrat), Jeremy Lefroy MP (Conservative), Caroline Lucas MP (Green), Lord Warner (Crossbench) and Hywel Williams MP (Plaid Cymru) as Vice-Chairs. This is a powerful cross-party coalition for change.

We know that while the existing Westminster system may be all that many voters in England have ever known, it is far from the only way. There are much better options.

Every new democratic institution created in the past two decades has, in fact, rejected First Past The Post. Voters in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (and indeed, in most modern democracies) are all used to more proportional systems – seeing their voices properly and fairly reflected in the corridors of power, and with seats matching votes. (For more information on the alternatives see here)

Yet Westminster’s creaking voting system is stuck in the dark ages.

National Democracy Week has been launched with the noble intention that “regardless of who we are or where we are from, we must work together to ensure that every member of society has an equal chance to participate in our democracy and to have their say.”

Let us recognise that the ‘one-party-takes-all’ system does not achieve this. It was designed for another age – and doesn’t work today.

Let’s move towards a democratic system built for our time: where everyone’s voice is heard. That, surely, would be fitting progress to mark the first National Democracy Week.”

“Democracy Week” …. why it is undemocratic

Apparently, it’s “Democracy Week” …. Owl finds it hard to believe.

Here are 4 reasons from the Electoral Reform Society why it is anything but:

1. The first-past-the-post system of voting.

2. Inequality in the minimum voting age in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

3. “A House of Cronies” aka the gerrymandered House of Lords.

4. The political gender gap.

For more information, see:

“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. …”