To receive a presentation from the Head of Democratic and Customer Services, Mr. Andrew Colver, on the current review of Electoral Services.
The Panel welcomed Mr. Andrew Colver, Head of Democratic and Customer Services, who attended the meeting to give an update on the current review of electoral services and recent electoral events.
The Panel noted the unprecedented electoral events that had taken place over the previous two years and the challenges and workload these had created for the Elections Team. There had been an increase in the electorate since the May 2016 local election and the turnout for the EU referendum had been 74%. Different types of elections created different challenges, local and Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections took more organisation whilst other national electoral events generated greater customer contact. Some issues had emerged during 2016/17, including requests to review some of the polling stations, a review of the arrangements around the issue of postal votes, complexities of the PCC ballot paper, increased contact from overseas electors and the difficulties in registering military personnel.
The Panel noted the Government’s position on making democracy work for everyone. The key focus was to ensure the electoral system worked better and addressed the potential for fraud and improved processes. The Government proposed to tackle fraud and the perception of fraud through the testing of the impacts of ID checking in polling stations, a pilot for which would be carried out during 2018 local elections in areas where there had been issues in the past. Further work would also be required to improve security around postal votes, registration and polling station processes.
It was advised that the Boundary Commission was currently carrying out a Parliamentary Constituency Review. The second consultation period was now complete and the responses were being assessed. The proposals would mean a change for the Aldershot Constituency to include Crookham East, Crookham West and Ewshott. It was noted that if revised proposals were made a further eight week consultation period would commence at the beginning of 2018 and recommendations made to the Government by September 2018.
The Panel was informed of the Law Commissions Reform Project, the Commission had requested a review in 2012 of administrative law, offences and legal challenges. An interim report had recommended consolidation and rationalisation of the laws and processes to address inconsistencies and modernise out of date laws. The review was currently at the Government review stage but had been delayed by activities around Brexit.
The Panel reviewed the elections timetable for the period 2018 – 2022 and it was noted that a European election in 2019 was unlikely. Mr. Colver explained that Individual Electoral Registration (IER) had been introduced in 2014/15. The system had moved from being property based to person based and additional funding had been provided to meet the extra costs of the system. The IER system presented new challenges, which the Government recognised, and it was noted that it was keen to progressively remove mandated processes, make registration simpler, more digital and data driven and more efficient. An annual assessment of the register was also likely to be carried out to assess accuracy and completeness. It was reported that the project had been generally successful, in particular the use of digital services to register and confirm details; however many applications made were duplicates. The Panel noted the changes in the register since 2006, key increases had been the influx of overseas voters, from 29 in 2006 to 330 in 2017. The number of service voters had fluctuated over the years, it was advised that married quarters were canvassed in the same way as non-military properties, but those resident in barracks were harder to access and letters were often returned as undelivered.
The Panel noted that, following the implementation of IER, the Elections Team had commenced a wide-ranging review of its services, using “systems thinking” principles. The team were focusing on improving the service to customers, addressing the amount of paperwork and waste work, integration with other Council services and reductions in cost. A considerable amount of work had been carried out to understand customer demand and processes and currently a consultation was being carried out with residents to assist in the review of the service/process. Electoral services were governed by conditions and legislation which affected the way the service operated; these include Electoral Commission guidance and standards, IT systems and prescribed forms, all of which were detailed/prescriptive and needed to be understood to influence the review.
The Panel noted the next steps, which would involve the findings being collated and fed back to the Elections Group and Panel as required. The redesign of the system would need to be trialled and the team would work with the Cabinet Office to modernise the process, should pilots for any changes be required.
The Panel discussed the option of online voting and it was noted that the Government was reluctant at present to progress any e-voting initiatives.
The Panel NOTED the presentation and requested an update on the review at a future meeting.