Elections Bill 2021-22: status of the bill

the Elections Bill (Bill 138 of 2021-22) was filed on July 5, 2021.

For more information on the bill, see the library briefing released ahead of second reading: Elections Bill 2021-22.

The Bill makes changes to the Elections Act that meet the Conservative Party’s manifesto commitments to “protect the integrity of British democracy” (909 KB, PDF).

Some of the main elements of the bill are:

  • The introduction of a voter ID card for voters at polling stations during elections to the UK Parliament to prevent the electoral crime of impersonation – pretending to be someone else when voting;
  • Facilitate foreign voter registration and expand eligibility by removing the 15-year limit on foreign voter registration;
  • Introduce a fingerprint requirement on digital campaign material – a “fingerprint” is information added to material that tells potential voters who produced it;
  • Introduce a new electoral sanction for those found guilty of intimidating a candidate during an election, following the increasing levels of abuse faced by candidates; and
  • Changes to the regulation of third party activists.

The bill also introduces new measures on the control of the electoral commission and on the right to vote of EU citizens.

Second reading

The bill received a second reading September 7, 2021.

Voter ID

The main point of debate centered on proposals regarding voter identification and voter fraud more generally. Opposition MPs have criticized the proposals, with many focusing on the barriers the ID requirement would create for many voters. Several said voter ID was a solution to something that wasn’t a problem, citing the low number of impersonation convictions. Tory MPs highlighted types of voter fraud and generally welcomed the bill’s measures.

Election Commission

Measures to change the control of the Electoral Commission have been controversial. Opposition MPs argued that this was an improper interference with the independence of the Commission.

The government argued that it would improve parliamentary oversight of the work of the Electoral Commission while respecting its independence.

Foreign voters

The Labor Party has argued that ending the 15-year overseas registration limit was a ploy to increase the number of overseas voters who can donate to the Conservative Party. Labor were in favor of extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds.

The government has argued that all British citizens living abroad should have a vote and a voice in Parliament.

Other measures

Measures regarding digital footprints, election accessibility and candidate intimidation were generally welcomed.

Instruction to examine local electoral systems

After second reading, the House of Commons agreed to an instruction September 20. This allowed the Public Bill Committee to consider voting systems for certain local elections in England and Wales, which had not originally been included in the bill.

It allowed the government to make amendments at committee stage to change the voting system for all Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs), Combined Authority Mayors and the Mayor of London, from the voting system addition to the first-past-the-post system.

Public Bills Committee

The Committee held four hearings before examining the details of the bill. Eight review sessions were held beginning September 22, 2021. The Committee heard testimony on a range of measures in the bill, but in particular on voter fraud, the impact of voter identification on the turnout and the perceived threat to the independence of the Electoral Commission. He also heard testimony from those conducting elections about the potential resource effects and risks to the conduct of elections that the additional burdens introduced by the bill could create.

Only the government amendments were approved. Some were drafting amendments, and the main substantive change was a new clause to change the voting systems for CCP and mayoral elections.

Report of the select committee

On 13 December 2021, the Committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs released a report on the Elections Bill. The Committee criticized the lack of pre-legislative scrutiny of the bill and the additional complexity of the electoral law that would result.

The committee called on the government to suspend progress On the bill. Chairman William Wragg said: “We believe the proposed Elections Bill lacks a sufficient evidence base, timely consultation and transparency, all of which should be addressed before moving forward.”

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