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Session 2005 - 06
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|Electoral Administration Bill
These notes refer to the Electoral Administration Bill as introduced in the House of Commons on 11 October 2005 [Bill 50]
ELECTORAL ADMINISTRATION BILL
1. These explanatory notes relate to the Electoral Administration Bill as introduced in the House of Commons on 11 October 2005. They have been prepared by the Department for Constitutional Affairs in order to assist the reader of the Bill and to help inform debate on it. They do not form part of the Bill and have not been endorsed by Parliament.
2. The notes need to be read in conjunction with the Bill. They are not, and are not meant to be, a comprehensive description of the Bill. So where a clause or part of a clause does not seem to require any explanation or comment, none is given.
3. The Electoral Administration Bill, introduced in the House of Commons on 11 October 2005, incorporates proposals affecting the administration and regulation of elections in the United Kingdom (UK).
'Voting for change' and 'Delivering democracy? The future of postal voting.'
4. The proposals for amending many aspects of electoral law have emerged from a series of detailed studies and consultations carried out by the independent Electoral Commission from 2002/3. Following extensive consultation with the electoral community the Electoral Commission has produced several reports recommending changes to the current administration of elections, culminating in two main reports 'Voting for change' (June 2003) and 'Delivering democracy? The future for postal voting' (December 2004). The recommendations in these reports are aimed at improving the integrity, security and convenience for the electorate at UK elections.
[Bill 50-EN] 54/1
5. The Government's responses to the reports 'Voting for change' and 'Delivering democracy? The future of postal voting' were published and announced as command papers in December 2004.
'Securing the vote'
6. Following the Birmingham elections court case (2005) and allegations of fraud at the May 2005 General Election, none of which have resulted to date in prosecution, the Government has undertaken policy discussions with its stakeholders on a range of proposals aimed at safeguarding the integrity of the electoral system.
7. A Government policy discussion paper was published between May 23 - June 10, and over 160 responses were received on the proposals, by the deadline. Discussion meetings were also held with the Association of Electoral Administrators, other returning officers and administrators, suppliers of electoral services and the political parties. On the basis of these comments and responses received during the discussions, the Government recommended a package of additional proposals, primarily focussing on security, to be included in the Bill. These also took into account the recommendations of the Electoral Commission's 'Securing the vote' report, published in May 2005.
8. The Government's response to 'Securing the vote' was published at the time of the introduction of this Bill in October 2005.
9. The Electoral Administration Bill will introduce new measures working towards three key objectives:
10. The Bill is also part of a wider Government programme of modernising the electoral system, to make it more convenient and accessible, and to pave the way for secure multi-channel voting options. This is necessary for achievement of the Government's target of an "e-enabled general election sometime after 2006".
OTHER RELEVANT LEGISLATION
11. The Bill primarily makes amendments to:
12. The provisions in the 1983 Act mainly, but not exclusively, concern the franchise, conduct of, and proceedings relating to parliamentary elections in the UK and local government elections in Great Britain. Many of the amendments in the Bill regarding the conduct of parliamentary elections are being applied, or may, in due course, be applied for the purposes of other types of elections and referendums. These would include: elections to the European Parliament, Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales, Northern Ireland Assembly, local government elections, mayoral and executive elections and national or regional referendums. Delegated powers exist to apply the Bill's provisions regarding the conduct of other elections under the following enactments:
OVERVIEW OF THE STRUCTURE
13. The explanatory notes are divided into 9 Parts reflecting the structure of the Bill.
Part 1: Co-ordinated On-line Record of Electors
14. Part 1 of the Bill contains provisions for the establishment, by order made by the Secretary of State, of one or more Co-ordinated On-line Record of Electors (CORE) schemes. A CORE scheme would consolidate into a centralised record for the area covered by the scheme, such of the electoral registers and related information maintained by the local electoral registration officers (EROs) in that area as is specified in the scheme.
15. A CORE scheme would be run by a keeper. The keeper, who could be the Electoral Commission, would be designated by the Secretary of State. Whilst the detail of how the scheme would operate would be set out in a scheme order itself, relevant EROs would generally be under a duty to supply the information in their registers, as well as other specified electoral registration information, to the keeper. A keeper would be required to inform relevant EROs of information indicative of duplicate entries. A scheme could permit the keeper to provide electoral registration information to organisations currently entitled to be provided with a copy of electoral registers by EROs under other legislation. The scheme would also govern access to the consolidated record and permit individual electors to access CORE on-line for the purposes of checking and requesting updates to the information held about them.
Part 2: Registration of Electors
16. Part 2 develops the provisions governing the registration of electors in several ways. It:
Part 3: Anti-Fraud Measures
17. This Part extends the application of provisions requiring the collection, storage and use of 'personal identifiers' from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, with some specified differences. Personal identifiers in Great Britain are specified as signature and date of birth in the first instance and this Part provides for the system to be piloted prior to any full national rollout. In areas in which personal identifiers are in use, they must be supplied when both registering to vote and when voting. As regards Northern Ireland, they have a wider definition, as they also include a national insurance number (or statement that the elector does not have one), statement of residence, and any other address in the UK in respect of which the elector had applied to be registered.
18. This Part also creates an offence of providing false information for the purposes of registration or when applying for a postal or proxy vote.
Part 4: Review of Polling Places
19. Part 4 establishes a framework for local authorities (LAs) to review polling places regularly over a four-year cycle, to ensure that they provide proper access to people.
Part 5: Standing for Election
20. Part 5 reduces the minimum age for candidacy for election to Parliament, and to other specified elected bodies, from 21 to 18.
21. It specifies new requirements as to the immigration status, which Commonwealth citizens must have in order to qualify to stand for election.
22. It makes changes to the nomination procedures including:
Part 6: Conduct of elections etc
23. This Part makes provision on several topics relevant to the conduct of elections.
24. In relation to electoral expenses it makes amendments:
25. It introduces a system for the attendance of the Electoral Commission and other authorised observers at elections.
26. It adds to the circumstances in which a voter is permitted to cast a tendered vote at a polling station.
27. It creates a new offence of applying for a postal or proxy vote with the intention, in effect, of stealing another person's vote. This can be by a person personating another elector or by wrongfully redirecting another elector's postal vote.
28. It introduces new provisions governing the custody, inspection and supply of the marked registers after an election which have been used at polling stations and provides for the production of marked lists of returned postal and postal proxy votes.
29. It introduces a power for returning officers to correct errors made by themselves or others involved in the conduct of the election.
Part 7: Regulation of Parties
30. Part 7 of the Bill contains provisions on several topics relevant to the regulation of political parties. The topics are:
31. There are also provisions to:
Part 8: Miscellaneous
32. Part 8 makes provision on the following topics:
33. It establishes provision for the setting of performance standards by the Electoral Commission, for reports to be made on such standards and information to be provided about expenditure. It amends section 29 of the 1983 Act in relation to the funding of services and expenses of returning officers. It introduces a new power for returning officers and EROs to encourage the participation in the electoral process.
34. It provides for the time limit for bringing prosecutions to be extended by a magistrates' court from 12 months to 24 months, following an application from a constable or Crown Prosecutor. In such a case the time limit for relevant documents to be kept can also be extended from 12 months to 24 months.
Part 9: General
35. Part 9 outlines the general clauses on:
TERRITORIAL APPLICATION: GENERAL
36. Amendments made by this Bill to other enactments have the same territorial extent as the provisions to be amended. Otherwise, the Bill extends to the whole of the UK, subject to the exceptions specified in paragraphs 38 to 41 below.
37. On the whole, provisions made by the Bill relating to parliamentary elections are applied for the purposes of other UK elections. That is except where:
TERRITORIAL APPLICATION: NORTHERN IRELAND
38. The Bill applies to Northern Ireland except clauses 9, 10, 11, 61 and 64 and related paragraphs in Schedule 1.
39. Where necessary, amendments are made to the Electoral Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1962 in order to achieve a similar result in Northern Ireland for local elections. In Northern Ireland the Representation of the People Acts 1983 and 1985 do not apply to local elections although they are modified and applied indirectly by virtue of the Elected Authorities (Northern Ireland) Act 1989. Similarly, parts of the 1983 Act and the 1985 Act are indirectly applied to Assembly elections by virtue of the Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections) Order 2001 as amended.
TERRITORIAL APPLICATION: SCOTLAND
40. Most of the Bill's provisions apply to Scotland except:
TERRITORIAL APPLICATION: WALES
41. Most of the Bill's provisions will apply in Wales. Provisions having particular application in Wales are to be found at clause 23 (inserting a new parliamentary election rule 6B) and clause 47 (inserting new sections 28A and 28B to the 2000 Act). Independent candidates and political parties will be entitled to register descriptions of up to six words in length, and these will be the only descriptions which candidates may use both on nomination papers and on the ballot paper. As regards elections held in Wales, it is provided that the descriptions can be up to six words in English and/or in Welsh (rule 6B(7) and section 28A(5)). Rule 19 is also amended so that independent candidates at elections in Wales must use as their emblem on the ballot paper either "IND/ANNIB" or "ANNIB/IND".
COMMENTARY ON CLAUSES
Part 1: Co-ordinated On-line Record of Electors
Clause 1 CORE schemes: establishment
42. Subsection (1) confers a power on the Secretary of State to establish by order, one or more Co-ordinated On-line Record of Electors (CORE) schemes for the keeping, and use, of specified electoral registration information. It specifies certain matters that may be governed by a CORE scheme.
43. A CORE scheme would be maintained by a 'CORE keeper', who would be a person designated by the scheme. The CORE keeper would be a public body (subsection (10)). More than one CORE scheme may be in place at the same time and a scheme would designate the geographical area that it was to cover. Subsection (7) specifies, however, that the geographical areas of CORE schemes could not overlap, so that no area could be in more than one scheme at a time. The EROs within a CORE scheme area would be under a duty to provide the keeper with the specified electoral registration information relating to that area (subsections (1) and (2)).
44. Subsection (11) specifies the electoral registration information that can be kept and used in accordance with the CORE scheme. It could include the register of electors for any election, as well as associated records relating to such a register, which EROs are required or authorised by law to keep. It could also include other information that is required for electoral or jury service purposes relating to a person who appears on a register. The Secretary of State can, by order, add to the information to be held in a CORE scheme.
45. A scheme could establish the details of how and when EROs must provide the specified electoral information to the keeper and specify how a CORE keeper must keep that information (subsections (3) - (6)).
Clause 2 Use of CORE information
46. This clause defines the uses to which information supplied to CORE may be put.
47. Where a CORE scheme provides for the keeper to hold copies of the full, or edited, or marked registers, he will be bound by regulations governing the supply and access to the registers in a similar way as would apply to an ERO (subsections (2) to (4)). These regulations govern the duty of EROs to supply copies, restrict who copies are supplied to and what use recipients may make of them, and allow EROs to charge for providing copies. A number of bodies are entitled, subject to these regulations, to receive copies for the performance of their functions and duties. These include: returning officers (to conduct an election); political parties and the Electoral Commission (to check financial donations); and credit reference agencies (for checking credit applications). In many cases such bodies will require information from every ERO in the UK.
48. Subsection (1) provides that a CORE keeper may be authorised, or required, to do certain things with the information he holds under the scheme. For example, where he has the duty of keeping the registers, he may be required to act as the single point of contact for giving access as regards every register in the area covered by the CORE scheme. Subsection (3) provides that a CORE scheme could - in addition or alternatively - make new provision or modify the regulations governing access to information kept in a CORE scheme. Any such additional or varied provision applying to a CORE keeper would still have to be within the scope of the specified regulation-making powers.
49. CORE would keep information from multiple local electoral registers. A duty is imposed on CORE keepers to inform relevant EROs of duplicate information held in CORE in specified circumstances (subsections (5) and (6)). The CORE keeper may also provide such other information held in CORE as appears to relate to the performance of the EROs functions (subsection (7)).
50. A CORE scheme may allow individuals to access their details on-line to check that the information held is accurate. If a scheme provided for this, it would entitle the individual to request changes to that information (subsection (8)). This would not allow an individual on-line access to the whole register (subsection (10)). If an individual did request a change to their information, the keeper would be under a duty to pass that request on to the relevant ERO (subsection (9)), whether or not that ERO is at that time within the area covered by that CORE scheme (subsection (12)).
51. A CORE scheme may not widen the categories of electoral registration data that EROs have access to. Subsection (11) specifies that a CORE scheme must not allow one ERO to view on CORE the information provided by another, other than through the notification of duplicates outlined elsewhere in the clause.
Clause 3 CORE scheme grants
52. This clause provides the powers for the Secretary of State to make the necessary finances for the running of a CORE scheme available to the keeper under that scheme.
Clause 4 Electoral Commission
53. Subsection (1) of this clause amends the 2000 Act by adding a new section 20A. This allows the Electoral Commission to be appointed as the keeper of a CORE scheme by the Secretary of State under clause 1.
Clause 5 CORE schemes: supplemental
54. This clause makes supplemental provisions in relation to CORE schemes.
55. Subsections (1) and (3) authorise a CORE scheme to specify circumstances in which payments may be required between a CORE keeper and an ERO for an area covered by a CORE scheme, and the circumstances in which a CORE keeper may charge any person for his services and the level of any such charges.
56. Subsection (2) authorises a CORE scheme to make provision enabling a CORE keeper and an ERO to perform some of the other's functions. Subsection (10) allows a CORE scheme to specify functions that must be carried out personally by a CORE keeper. A CORE keeper may make arrangements with third parties, if he thought it appropriate, with respect to the carrying out of any other functions.
57. A CORE scheme could make special provision for how that scheme and keeper are to operate in respect of a parliamentary constituency that falls partly within, and partly outside, the area covered by that CORE scheme. Paragraph 1(1) of Schedule 2 to the 1983 Act provides for regulations to be made dealing with such a situation and a scheme may apply, with modifications, any regulations made under that provision (subsections (4) and (5)).
58. As information kept and used in a CORE scheme will mainly be held electronically, a power is taken (subsection (6)) to modify any obligation to provide a person's signature, where that is a requirement for the purposes of an ERO's responsibilities, in relation to electoral registration or absent voting.
Clause 6 CORE schemes: procedure
59. Before making an order to establish or vary a scheme, the Secretary of State will have to consult the Electoral Commission, the Information Commissioner and EROs who would be affected by the Order (subsection (4)). An order establishing a CORE scheme would attract the affirmative resolution procedure, thus requiring approval by both Houses of Parliament (subsection (2)). The Secretary of State may terminate a scheme, in whole or in part, without the need to consult (other than with an ERO whose area is proposed to be removed from the scheme), but would still only be able to do so by order subject to the affirmative resolution process (subsection (5)).
Clause 7 Amendment of the 1983 Act
60. This clause amends section 63 of the 1983 Act. As regards duties imposed by the law relating to parliamentary or local government elections, or the registration of parliamentary or local government electors, a CORE keeper will be liable in criminal law for a breach of his official duties. The penalty for breach of official duty, under section 63, is a fine not exceeding £5000.
|© Parliamentary copyright 2005
|Prepared: 12 October 2005