Memorandum by the Local Government Association
(LGA) (POS 37)
1. The Local Government Association (LGA)
represents local councils in England and Wales. We work with and
for our member authorities to realise a shared vision of local
government that aims to put local councils at the heart of the
drive to improve public services.
2. Voting is fundamental to our democracy
and the British constitution. We are therefore very concerned
about the continuing decline in electionsat european, national
and local levelin this country. The LGA is committed to
reinvigorating the democratic process, encouraging greater participation
by citizens in democratic institutions. We believe that local
authorities have a vital contribution to make in achieving this.
3. We welcome this opportunity to make comments
to the Inquiry. The key points we would like to make are as follows:
The problem of declining participation
in the electoral process is common to all elections in this country.
We believe that the key factors for
local people in determining whether or note to vote is the extent
to which their vote matters (to what extent does the institution
they are voting for have a direct impact on their lives) and whether
their vote has the potential to affect the result of the election.
However it is also true to say that
the current voting procedures remain largely unchanged over the
last 100 yearsdespite the enormous changes in culture,
lifestyle and technologyand that the introduction of new
processes making voting easier and more accessible may be an important
factor in facilitating voter engagement.
The LGA therefore lobbied for the
introduction of the piloting arrangements in the Representation
of the People Act 2000. We have encouraged councils to pilot new
arrangements and are pleased with the number, breadth and success
of the electoral pilots that have been undertaken since May 2000which
reflects the importance councils attach to this issue and their
willingness to innovate.
We have noted the positive impact
that all postal elections appears to have on electoral turnout.
However, we also recognise that it is vital to address concerns
about secrecy and security of all postal ballots and to combat
the potential of electoral fraud. Moreover, whilst we accept the
need to test all postal pilots over a wider geographic area we
do not believe that all postal ballots should be rolled out on
a mandatory basis to all councils without additional security
being in placeas recommended by the Electoral Commissionin
particular the proposed move from household to individual registration.
In addition we have to accept that
not all voters will want to trust their vote to the post. Staffed
delivery points should be available for voters to drop off their
vote and to mark their ballot in privacy. This is an important
step to gaining public confidence and acceptability for all postal
elections. It is important to ensure that those people who do
not wish to use the post, are able to vote at a manned delivery
point. Voting can be seen by many, particularly the elderly, as
an important social and community activity.
4. The LGA lobbied for local authorities
to have the opportunity to pilot new electoral arrangements, including
all postal ballots. Local authorities have piloted all postal
ballots (along with other new voting procedures) in local elections
in May 2000 (7 councils piloted all postal ballots); May 2002
elections (15 councils ran all postal ballots) and May 2003 (32
councils ran all postal ballots).
5. The LGA has been working in partnership
with the ODPM and the Electoral Commission to support the pilot
authorities. We agree with the aims of the piloting programme,
in particular to make elections more accessible, either by making
it more convenient to vote or by making voting more attractive
to people currently less likely to voteparticularly if
this enables key groups of people who might otherwise be excluded
(eg people who are working away from their area, or the elderly
and people with mobility problems) to participate in the electoral
6. The Electoral Commission has a statutory
duty to evaluate each of the pilots and produce an evaluation
report. These evaluations provide a vital safeguard to ensuring
the solutions are delivered in a robust and secure manner, and
provide the Electoral Commission and Government with information
on which to base the future electoral modernisation policy. The
pilot schemes have required those councils which have conducted
pilots, to incorporate mechanisms for quantifying the extent to
which fraud or breaches of security were penetrated or attempted.
Each pilot has also been required to test the elector's response
to the pilot for example by using an exit poll or equivalent.
7. The Government has announced its intention
to consult on "rolling out" all postal elections to
local government elections on a mandatory basis. All postal elections
will have the effect of lengthening the campaign period and as
a consequence there may be arguments for considering moving the
date of local elections to June. We suggest the Commission be
asked to consider what impact the change of election date to June,
had on campaigning and voting patterns when it conducts its evaluation
of the 2004 pilots.
8. We believe that Councils' support for
running electoral pilots has been the key to the success of the
pilot schemes. As the Electoral Commission evaluation report of
the 2003 pilots confirms:
"All pilot schemes were well-conducted and
successfully delivered an election result."
9. Moreover the all postal voting pilots
have shown an increase in electoral turnout. In their strategic
evaluation of the 2003 electoral pilot schemes ("The Shape
of elections to come"), the Electoral Commission state that
"Our evaluation of the all-postal schemes suggests that this
approach is effective in boosting participation rates at local
elections". The average turnout in the 2003 all-postal pilots
was around 47.5%, compared to an average turnout of around 33%
at traditional elections.
10. However, the reasons for low turnout
at elections are varied and complex. The Government should not
think that new and modern methods of voting are, by themselves,
the only solution to low turnout. The LGA believes that the key
to raising turnout in local elections is to make local democracy
and the role and function of local councils more meaningful. Nevertheless
making voting easier and more accessible may be an important factor.
11. The European Parliamentary and Local
Elections (Pilots) Bill allows the Secretary of State to approve
new methods of votingincluding all postal votingin
certain regions at the combined 2004 European Parliamentary and
local government elections.
12. We agree with the Government that all
postal elections now need to be tested over larger areas and that
the 2004 combined European Parliamentary and local elections provide
an opportunity to do so. The Bill requires councils in pilot regions
to hold their elections on the same basis. The legislation changes
the basis on which pilots have so far been conductedfrom
a discretionary basis to a mandatory one. In view of the critical
role councils play in the process we believe that one of the factors
that should be taken into account in determining the pilot regions
is the extent of support from councils in the region.
13. The administration of postal voting
is time consuming. This may be exacerbated when elections are
combined. Clear instructions will be needed for voters and for
staff to administer and process an increased volume of applications,
postal ballots and postal vote queries to a tight schedule.
14. Confidence in the electoral system is
vital if local people are going to vote. Whilst we support electoral
modernisation, we also believe that an appropriate balance needs
to be struck between greater accessibility to voting with the
need to maintain or improve the security of the poll and the prevention
15. We agree with the recommendations of
the Electoral Commissionas set out In their report "The
shape of elections to come" (July 2003)to safeguard
secrecy and prevent fraud, in particular:
(a) replacing the current declaration of
identity with a new security statement;
(b) staffed delivery points;
(c) a move from household to individual voter
16. We agree with the Electoral Commission
that in all postal elections there should be staffed delivery
points for those voters who choose to return their ballot papers
in person and not through the post. We believe that there should
be at least one delivery point in each district ward and that
these delivery points should also have an area for voters to mark
their ballot in privacy. This is an important step to gaining
public confidence and acceptability for all postal elections and
ensuring that those people who do not wish to use the post, are
able to vote conventionally
17. We are also pleased that the Government
intends that many of the Commission's other recommendations are
to be adopted for the 2004 all postal pilots, (ie replacing the
Declaration of Identity by a simplified Security Statement, introducing
a watermark or "under-printed" mark to replace the traditional
form of official mark and that the ballot paper will carry a bar
code instead of a ballot paper number).
18. The political parties also have a crucial
role to play in stimulating turnout at elections. However their
resources can often be limited. The marked register has many potential
benefits and should be made available to political parties in
order to help then target canvassing activities and so potentially
increase the number of people who vote. We welcome the proposal
to supply political parties, before the close of poll, with "polling
progress information" on which electors have retuned their
ballot paper. However this should be extended to independent and
other candidates who are standing for election.
19. We believe that a publicly available
marked register could also be available in an electronic format
on a daily basis for individuals to check that their ballot has
arrived. We also believe that it is important to ensure the effective
delivery of all postal ballots to whom they are intended. This
is particularly important for houses of multiple occupation and
in residences with no facilities for direct delivery to each individual
property. Enabling individuals to check that their ballot has
arrived is an important step in combating potential fraud and
ensuring public confidence in postal ballots.
20. In their strategic evaluation of the
2003 electoral pilot schemes ("The Shape of elections to
come"), the Electoral Commission recommended that all postal
ballots should be rolled out on a mandatory basis to all councils.
We would expect the Government to consult widely before moving
to such a fundamental change in the way of voting. At this stage
however we do not believe that all postal ballots should be rolled
out on a mandatory basis to all councils without the Commission's
recommendations designed to safeguard security and prevent fraudin
particular a move from household to individual registrationbeing
21. In addition we would first want to see
the Commission's evaluation of the 2004 pilots and to examine
the impact of the Commission's recommendations on secrecy and
the prevention of fraud.