With voter fraud so low, do we need reform of Britain’s electoral system?

In the context of the Representation of the People Act of 1918 and the granting of universal suffrage in 1928 by the government of Stanley Baldwin, an electoral register was introduced, with no restrictions on eligibility on grounds of sex, age, income or occupancy of premises.

The 2021 Election Reform Bill currently before Parliament, which largely affects the whole of the UK, is summarized on the UK Government‘s website, which interested parties may wish to read. The summary includes different sections: clarification of undue influence, fictitious expenses of candidates, new rules on the benefits in kind to be declared, identification of voters, foreign voters, role of the Electoral Commission, postal voting, etc.

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For eligible voters who cannot meet the photo verification requirements, there is the option of applying for a voter ID card, a concession presumably necessary to maintain the universal suffrage framework.

Vote-collecting could simply refer to someone (possibly a political activist) gathering sealed mail-in ballots to take to the polling station. The bill identified this convention as regulated by limiting the collection of mail-in ballots to a listed family member or caregiver, who can return up to four voter ballots, two of whom at most may be voters who are not abroad or service voters. There is no reference as to what situations this might relate to, for example people with mobility issues perhaps, or whether individuals within such a scheme may decide at a later date to issue their votes or post them themselves.

Postal voting regulations are to be tightened, with UK voters having to re-apply every three years. For foreign voters or expatriates, the 15-year limit will be removed and the registration period extended from one year to three.

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The Electoral Commission will be expressly barred from prosecuting, to avoid overlap with other prosecuting authorities.

It will be bound by a strategy and a political declaration (to be approved by the parliament) setting guidelines and principles which the Commission must take into account in the exercise of its functions. A parliamentary committee of the President will have the power to review the Commission’s compliance with the declaration. In light of this change, it is ensured that the Commission will remain operationally independent, with its other functions not to be undermined or replaced.

It was generally reported that some of these reforms would lead to increased barriers to voting, other areas might involve the centralization of election oversight, and might also include an element of partisan politics. However, although the current electoral system is generally considered to be free from all but an infinitesimal level of fraud, the government apparently considers this to be a clamored bill.

Peter Gorrie
Edinburgh

At first I thought John Baird’s admirable letter in Thursday’s National describing the SNP as a monster was a timely effort, but on reflection I think it is already too late because I feel that the party has completely lost its place. It appears that the raison d’être of the SNP is no longer independence. This saddens me as I actively supported the party for over 50 years (canvassing, leafleting etc.) but left after losing count of how many terms it had but ignored to hold a referendum on the ‘independence. Their latest move in vocal support of Johnson’s efforts to get the world’s attention on the Ukraine affair is, to me, the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

N M Shaw
Edinburgh

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