At its core, the Elections Bill is designed to boost the integrity and inclusivity of our electoral system. To summarise the provisions made in the Bill, it:
- Introduces measures to reduce intimidation at election time by updating existing (outdated) legislation to encompass a wide range of harms and undue influence, such as physical harm, or pressure from faith leaders. These measures to tackle – and sanction – intimidation and undue influence. This is a direct response to the issue that arose in the 2014 Tower Hamlet Borough Council Elections in which it was found that serious election fraud had occurred in the election of Luftur Rahman as Mayor resulting in his subsequent removal from office.
- Improve the transparency of campaigning by requiring campaigners to explicitly show for who they are and for whom they are campaigning for and clamping down on foreign spending to reduce the risk of outside interference. The Elections Bill will ban dual third-party and political party campaigner registrations and restrict all third-party campaigning to UK entities only, with a lower threshold for declaring their election spending. Combined with new Home Office legislation on foreign and state-backed interference in elections, the UK will have a robust new regime.
- Makes it easier for UK citizens abroad to vote. The new ‘Votes for Life’ for Overseas Electors will make sure that not British citizen is disenfranchised from UK Parliamentary elections because they live overseas.
- Boosting electoral inclusivity for disabled people by introducing a requirement on Returning Officers to consider a broader range of requirements that some disabled voters might need. Restrictions on ‘companions’ for disabled voters are also being lifted and ensuring accessibility at polling stations will become much more important.
On top of these measures, the Elections Bill also looks to maintain and increase the integrity of our electoral system by reducing fraud, both at the polling station and from postal and proxy voting.
Measures in the Bill will directly address concerns highlighted and raised at recent elections. Specifically, a requirement will be made for postal votes to be issued on a long-term (3-year) basis before reapplication. Political campaigners are also prohibited from handling postal ballot papers, with limits on the number of postal ballots handled by any non-campaigner, and the number of people for whom any one person can act as proxy is limited at four.
Finally, the Bill will, as you are aware, introduce a requirement for voters to show photographic identification at polling stations. This is a measure I support and reject the assertion that it harms the integrity of our elections. At the moment, I think it is too weak to simply state your name on entry at the Polling Station. Individuals currently present some form of ID for a range of the most basic every day occurrences (including collecting a parcel from the post office, changing details at the Doctors surgery, obtaining a parking permit or rail card). I don’t accept that asking people to produce ID is onerous or unfair when it is already an everyday requirement of life. Moreover, voter ID is already a requirement for elections in Northern Ireland and is a recommendation of the Electoral Commission, who have run a series of trials in recent elections on the subject. At no point did they find or conclude that the requirement for ID proved to be onerous or impede the ability of any voter to cast their ballot.
In all, I will be supporting the Election Bill as it is an important piece of legislation which will protect the foundations of our democracy. Far from harming or restricting participation in our democratic institutions, its provisions will ensure it is safeguarded from fraud, intimidation.