To update Members on the progress of the Elections Act 2022, that received Royal Assent on 28 April 2022.
[REPORT TO FOLLOW]
The Chief Executive introduced this officer report by stating that it set out what was known and not known by the Council thus far, recognising that the Government was still developing the related policy and secondary legislation. He added that there would be a number of challenges to overcome during the coming weeks and months, but as always officers would strive to ensure that the Council delivered a well-run, policy and legally compliant election process.
It was moved by Councillor Sharon Taylor and seconded by Councillor Mrs Joan Lloyd that the recommendation set out in the report be approved.
In moving the report, Councillor Taylor advised that further information was required from the Government regarding the Elections Act 2022. The Association of Electoral Administrators/Returning Officers had written to the Government’s Levelling Up, Communities & Housing Minister regarding this matter on a number of occasions expressing their concerns, some of which were set out in the report. A huge amount was being asked of Electoral Officers should there be timetable delays to the May 2023 electoral process as a result of provisions outlined in the Act.
Councillor Taylor stated that the secondary legislation had yet to be published. Even if this was published in the near future, there were significant doubts as to whether there would be sufficient time to implement the required changes, including integration with election IT systems.
Councillor Taylor added that the Council should convey its objections to the Government that it was pressing ahead with the Elections Act 2022 in spite of the concerns raised by the AEA and Returning Officers.
The following comments were made by Members during the debate on the report:
· the concern that there may be some unfunded burdens on the Council as a result of some of the proposals referred to in the Act;
· the Government’s timetable for the adoption of a robust system to handle voter ID in time for the May 2023 elections was unrealistic It could potentially disenfranchise a significant number of the electorate, and hence more time was needed to properly test and implement such a system;
· this was a vast bureaucratic sledgehammer to crack a tiny nut. Over the years there had been very few cases on impersonation at a Polling Station;
· far too many proposals contained in the Act awaited secondary legislation to provide the detail;
· the distraction of the Coronation of King Charles III on 6 May 2023 only 2 days after the 4 May 2023 Elections could cause additional problems. Many of the staff planning for the Elections would be the same staff who would be supporting events in connection with the Coronation;
· calls should be made for a postponement of the implementation of certain key sections of the Act, and to request the new Government to thoroughly review the proposals;
· although some steps needed to be taken to address larger scale electoral fraud, a number of the proposals set out in the Act were over-bureaucratic, and hopefully the Government would be persuaded by the views of the AEA and Returning Officers;
· the proposals were politically motivated and were an affront to democracy by attempting to make it more difficult for people to vote;
· a great deal of impersonation had been ruled out by the rigorous process for signature checking that was carried out with postal voting;
· when the position became more certain, would officers be holding an All-Member Briefing on the new arrangements; and
· the disadvantaged in the community (including the disabled and those with learning difficulties) would not necessarily possess the necessary photographic ID and hence would be disenfranchised under the proposed arrangements.
Councillor Taylor proposed an amendment to the motion to ensure that the concerns raised by Members be referred to the Department of Levelling Up, Communities & Housing.
In terms of the Government’s own fraud statistics on elections, Councillor Taylor reported that in 2017 there was 1 conviction for electoral fraud and 1 person acquitted (out of 200 reported cases); and from 2018 to 2021 there had been no evidence of large scale electoral fraud.
Upon the motion being put to the vote, it was RESOLVED that the report be noted and the concerns highlighted by Members on the Elections Act 2022 be referred to the Department of Levelling Up, Communities & Housing.