Headlines: August 27th, 2008

Changes to the law are needed to ensure future elections are better run according to a report today from the Electoral Commission. It says the current system is under strain and it sets out the steps it wants to see to reform what it calls ’19th century structures’.

The recommendations include the creation of new boards that would have powers to give directions to Returning Officers. The commission also wants improved funding for electoral administration.

The Commission Chairman, Sam Younger, said when decisions were made about how elections were run the voter’s interests had to be considered above all else as elections were the opportunity for citizens to take part in the democratic process. “The planning and running of elections need to be more robust and coordinated. We are still trying to run 21st century elections with 19th century structures, and the system is under severe strain,” he said.

Today’s report, ‘Electoral Administration in the UK’ sets out a series of proposed changes, including the establishment of Electoral Management Boards to provide coordination, leadership and support for elections. The boards, it says, should be made up of those running elections in an area, recognised in law and independent with the chair of each board having the power to give directions to Returning Officers to ensure best practice is followed and professional
standards remain high.

At the same time, it says, the role of Returning Officers should be strengthened so their part in running elections is distinct from the formation of election policy by government. The report also urges the simplification of electoral law and steps to ensure election law is finalised six months before any
poll takes place. It also wants measures to address the shortfall in funding for electoral administration and calls for consideration to be given to the financial and practical implications of establishing a professional country-wide electoral registration service.