Electoral Reform Society call for greater scrutiny of the elections bill

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Among several issues that have been raised with the elections bill have been the fact that it would:

  • Disproportionately impact people from black, Asian and Gypsy, Roma, Traveller backgrounds.
  • Represent a disproportionate response to an issue that at present doesn’t really exist in British politics.
  • Come at a time when the impact of the pandemic means that taxpayer money could very well be better spent elsewhere. Reports on the impact of potential cuts to universal credit have only highlighted a sense of misplaced priorities.

Significant attention has naturally been placed on those who stand to lose out most from the bill. As I wrote a month ago, it is difficult for democracy to stand with integrity when those whose voices are at greatest risk of marginalisation are further ushered away from the ballot box - which this bill would do at present.

However, several experts are continuing to shine a light on areas of oversight where the bill is concerned. The criticism of it being rushed through has been raised before, and speaking to Eleanor Langford of Politics Home, the Director of Policy and Research at the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) Dr Jess Garland re-emphasised the need for “real consultation” on the implications of the bill.

Speaking within the context of proposed changes to how Police and Crime Commissioners are elected, she said, “Most of this bill received no pre-legislative scrutiny, in contrast to legislation such as the Online Harms Bill. 

“There has been no formal public consultation on the bill as a whole, and ministers are ignoring the recent Committee on Standards in Public Life report and the principle that governments should consult on big constitutional changes. 

“Devolved governments are clear that they have not been properly engaged with, and they are right to be holding ministers to account on this.

“We urge ministers to pause and rethink this legislation and allow time for real public consultation and proper scrutiny of the proposals. We need electoral law to protect our elections not fiddle with the rules of the game”.

In the same article, Kyle Taylor, director of Fair Vote UK was also critical of the pace at which the government seems intent on moving forward with the Bill, arguing that a rethink is needed, and that “Democracy depends on it."

Campaigners from Fairvoteuk, Mylifemysay, the Electoral Reform Society and HandsOffOurVote handed in nearly 300,000 signatures in opposition to elements of the elections bill.

It shouldn't be overlooked that aspects of the bill could have positive implications for the transparency of online campaigning, yet even then, the calls for adequate scrutiny would be just as valid.

After an 18 month spell that has seen so many questions over freedom and the right to protest it is disheartening that greater emphasis has not to been placed on translating this spirit of discontent and inquisition into rallying participation around direct democracy to address a number of these issues. Instead, we are seeing a bill which far from futureproofing democracy, currently stands to cause more problems than it hopes to solve. This is a prospect which is a great shame. And it still leaves important questions unanswered: knowing that as many as 3.5 million people do not have valid voter ID, what could be the motivation for pushing through with the bill at all costs? Clearly, this seems to be a backwards approach to ensuring democratic participation. 

Given that the bill would also jeopardize the standing of the Independent Electoral Commission by strengthening government powers, this will likely be a recurring theme over the coming months.

Mayowa Ayodele

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