Electoral Commission (United Kingdom)
The Electoral Commission
|Headquarters||3 Bunhill Row, London, EC1Y 8YZ|
|Employees||156 (March 2009)|
|Annual budget||£23.5 million (estimate 2009–10)|
|Agency executives||Jenny Watson, Chair
Peter Wardle, Chief Executive
|This article is part of the series:
Politics and government of
the United Kingdom
The Electoral Commission is an independent body set up by the UK Parliament. It regulates party and election finance and sets standards for well-run elections. The Commission is independent of Government and answerable to Parliament.
The Electoral Commission was created following a recommendation by the Fifth report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
The Commission’s mandate was set out in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA), and ranges from the regulation of political donations and expenditure by political and third parties through to promoting greater participation in the electoral process.
The Electoral Administration Act 2006 made a number of improvements to electoral registration, improving the security arrangements for absent voting, allowing observers to attend elections and a major change in reducing the minimum age for candidates at UK Parliamentary elections. It also introduced the Performance Standards regime for electoral services.
The Political Parties and Elections Act 2009 granted the Electoral Commission a variety of new supervisory and investigatory powers. It fills significant gaps in the Commission’s current powers, the Act also provides a new range of flexible civil sanctions, both financial and non-financial are currently proposed to extend to regulated donees as well as political parties.
It also permitted the introduction of Individual Electoral Registration in Great Britain and made changes to the structure of the Electoral Commission, including allowing for the appointment of four new Electoral Commissioners who will be nominated by political parties.
Controversy in May 2010 general election
- There was alleged fraud in postal voting.
- Some voters were not allowed to vote because the polling stations were not ready for them.
- Police were used to control a small number of voters who were protesting at the poor administration of a polling centre which was insufficiently prepared to deal with the surge of voters leading up to 10pm.
- Polling stations kept some students waiting, who did not have their ballot cards and therefore took longer to process.
- "... the British system [of voting] is possibly the most corruptible in the world because of the potential for postal ballot fraud and double voting through the absence of any requirement for identification at polling stations" according to Ababu Namwamba, a Kenyan MP.
- Civil servants in charge of administering voting had decided to print only enough ballot papers to allow 80% of voters to vote, thus disenfranchising voters at any polling station with greater turnout.
Responsibilities and objectives
Integrity and transparency of party election finance
As the regulator of political party funding in the UK, the Commission’s role is to ensure the integrity and transparency of party and election finance.
The Commission provides guidance for political parties and regulated donees to assist them in meeting their legal obligations to follow party funding rules.
Political parties must submit annual statements of accounts, detailing income and expenditure, to the Electoral Commission. The Commission publishes these on its website.
Political parties and regulated donees are required to submit reports of all donations they receive to the Commission. The Commission maintains a publicly available register of these donations on its website.
At general elections to the UK Parliament, EU Parliament, Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and Northern Ireland Assembly political parties are required to submit campaign spending returns to the Electoral Commission.
The Commission may impose financial civil penalties on political parties and their accounting units if they fail to submit donation and loans returns, campaign spending return or statements of account.
The Commission also has the power to seek forfeiture of impermissible donations accepted by political parties.
Registering political parties
Complete and accurate electoral registers and a well run electoral registration process
The Commission produces guidance and gives advice on electoral registration to Electoral Registration Officers in Great Britain.
The Commission has published performance standards for electoral registration in Great Britain. Electoral Registration Officers are required to report against these standards and the Commission will make this information publicly available.
As part of this work, the Commission runs a series of public awareness campaigns ahead of elections and throughout the year to encourage people to register to vote.
These focus on audiences that research indicates are less likely to be on the electoral register, including recent homemovers, students and UK citizens living overseas.
Well-run elections and referendums which produce results that are acceptable
The Commission produces guidance and gives advice on electoral administration to Returning Officers and electoral administrators in Great Britain.
The Commission has set performance standards for Returning Officers and Referendum Counting Officers in Great Britain. These standards do not apply to local government elections in Scotland as they are a devolved matter.
The Commission has a statutory duty to produce reports on the administration of certain elections (for example UK Parliamentary General Elections) and may be asked to report on other types of election (such as local government elections).
EU seat distribution
The Commission is responsible for recommending which regions are allocated how many of the 72 seats that the United Kingdom holds at the European Parliament.
The Electoral Commission has a number of responsibilities in relation to referendums. These include:
- commenting on the wording of the referendum question (the government is responsible for proposing the wording)
- registration of campaigners
- designating lead campaign organisations and the making of grants
- monitoring referendum expenditure limits and donations
- certifying and announcing the result.
- As with other electoral events, the Electoral Commission has a statutory duty to prepare and publish a report on the administration of a relevant referendum and to give guidance and advice to administrators and campaigners.
- The Chair of the Commission, or someone appointed by the Chair, will also be appointed as Chief Counting Officer.
The Commission has no legal position in the legislation concerning referendums proposed by the devolved Scottish and Welsh administrations. The Welsh have proposed a referendum on additional powers on the assumption that the commission will oversee it, while the Scottish are looking into setting up their own commission to oversee the referendum. This is in line with the Calman proposals on the handing over of responsibilities for elections and referendums to the Scottish Parliament.
Commissioners and Chief Executive
- Jenny Watson was appointed by the Speakers Committee in January 2009 as the second Chair of the Electoral Commission. Ms Watson was previously Chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission.
- Max Caller is Chair of the Boundary Committee for England.
- Henrietta Campbell is the Commissioner with responsibility for Northern Ireland.
- Ian Kelsall is the Commissioner with responsibility for Wales.
- John McCormick is the Commissioner with responsibility for Scotland.
- Tony Hobman.
- Peter Wardle is the current Chief Executive of the Electoral Commission.
From 1 October 2010, four additional Commissioners will serve on a part-time basis who are nominated by the leaders of political parties, scrutinised by the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission and approved by the House of Commons by means of an Address to the Queen requesting their appointment. Those nominated by the three largest parties serve terms of four years, while the Commissioner nominated by a smaller party serves for a two-year term. The appointments of nominated Commissioners are renewable once. The first of these Commissioners will be as follows:
- Baroness Browning (Conservative)
- David Howarth (Liberal Democrat)
- Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Labour)
- George Reid (Scottish National Party)
To reflect the views of stakeholders and the distinctive procedures and practices across the UK, the Electoral Commission has offices in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Since February 2007 the Commission has also had regional offices across England in the South West, Eastern and South East, London, Midlands, and North of England regions.
Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission
The Electoral Commission is answerable to Parliament via the Speaker’s Committee (established by PPERA 2000). The Commission must submit an annual estimate of income and expenditure to the Committee. The Committee is responsible for answering Parliamentary Questions on behalf of the Commission. The member who takes questions for the Speaker’s Committee is Gary Streeter.
Parliamentary Parties Panels (PPP)
The PPP is composed of representatives from all UK parliamentary political parties with two or more sitting MPs. The PPP was established by PPERA and meets quarterly to submit views to the Commission on matters affecting political parties.
There are equivalent non-statutory bodies for the devolved legislatures in Scotland (Scottish Parliament Political Parties Panel), Wales (Wales Political Parties Panel) and Northern Ireland (Northern Ireland Assembly Parties Panel).
The Commission conducts a wide variety of research into electoral administration, electoral registration and the integrity and transparency of party finance, and a variety of guidance materials for political parties, regulated donees and electoral administrators.
The Electoral Commission’s corporate website contains downloadable copies of all Commission publications. It also contains the registers relating to the registration of political parties and third parties, donations and loans to political parties and regulated donees and of statements of account of political parties and their accounting units that the Commission is required to maintain by law.
Do Politics is part of the Commission’s corporate website and is an idea and resources hub for democracy practitioners, from schools and youth groups, to electoral officials and political parties. The website contains a variety of ideas and activities to encourage people to get engaged in politics, and opportunities to download or order hard copies of a wide range of resources.
About My Vote provides people with the information they need to register to vote. Users can print off a registration form, as well as an application form to vote by post or proxy and find the details of the Electoral Registration Officer that they need to send the form to. There is also information for specific audiences, such as overseas voters, students and members of the armed forces, and an animated walkthrough of a polling station.
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- Watchdog launches inquiry into chaos at polling stations - UK Politics, UK. The Independent (2010-05-08). Retrieved on 2010-09-16.
- General Election 2010: Postal voting system is a farce that shames democracy | Mail Online. Dailymail.co.uk (2010-05-05). Retrieved on 2010-09-16.
- Election 2010: Voters' frustrations at polling problems. BBC News (2010-05-07). Retrieved on 2010-09-16.
- Is this really the end of Punch and Judy politics? | Henry Porter | Comment is free | The Observer. Guardian. Retrieved on 2010-09-16.
- Live! - Election Marred by Voting Problems. Live.cgcu.net (2010-05-07). Retrieved on 2010-09-16.
- News - 'Astronomical turnout' blamed for ballot papers running out in Liverpool. Liverpool Echo. Retrieved on 2010-09-16.
- First Report of the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Committee: Appointment of nominated Commissioners to the Electoral Commission, 14 July 2010
- House of Commons Debates 15 September 2010