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Root and branch reform of electoral system “needed more urgently than ever”, say electoral administrators

The fragility of the electoral system is more apparent than ever, the expectations of citizens are not being met and the resilience of the electoral community to deliver is being tested, the Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA) has warned in a report on the December 2019 general election.

In its report, The 2019 UK Parliamentary General Election – delivered on time for Christmas, the AEA said a range of unintended consequences and logistical challenges arose from the election date. “These added significantly to the pressures electoral administrators were under and, in some cases, impacted directly on the service delivered to and expected by electors.”

It argued that legislative reform was required to mitigate the unique issues caused by holding a national poll during the annual canvass (as occurred in December 2019), and alongside the compulsory review of polling districts and polling places.

The AEA said problems such as postal votes for overseas voters and duplicate online voter registrations were “perennial”. It warned that looking ahead, constituency boundary changes and voter ID would introduce more complexity and risk.

“Root and branch reform is needed more urgently than ever,” it said.

The AEA has put five new recommendations to government, covering:

  • harmonising timetables for concurrent national and local elections to take account of devolved nation bank holidays
  • permitting polling district and polling place reviews to be extended if an unscheduled UK national poll or referendum is held
  • the publication of the revised register of electors to be delayed if the Notice of Election for all polls is published during the canvass
  • reviewing the registration system to improve voter experience
  • ensuring electors understand which polls they can vote in

These join outstanding recommendations from its previous reports, including The Electoral Landscape in 2019, which the AEA continued to call for action on.

The AEA added: “Following the delivery of two unscheduled national polls in less than twelve months, and with local elections meaning three polls in many areas, it is clear that those who administer the UK’s electoral system are close to breaking point; and that urgent action is needed to ensure the continued delivery of safe and secure elections.”