Latest Event Updates
The University of East Anglia has recently launched a new politics blog called Eastminster…..and I am editing it.
During the last week we have posts from my excellent colleagues on issues as diverse as Nelson Mandela, e-voting in the UK, interest in politics under the Coalition government and the effects of anti-terrorism legislation.
If you are interested in submitting a guest post, please do get in contact!
It is all on http://www.ueapolitics.org!
E-voting is back on the political agenda in the UK. The Guardian is reporting that:
‘The Commons Speaker, John Bercow, is establishing a rare independent commission on digital democracy, including the prospect of introducing electronic voting at elections.’
You might be surprised to know that internet voting has been used in the UK before. Between 2000-7 a range of innovative pilots took place in the UK which included internet voting, text message voting and digital TV voting. Internet voting was used in 2003 and 2007. I evaluated the experience in an article in the Election Law Journal.
My conclusions were that:
‘On balance, Internet voting and other remote electronic schemes appear to produce only a marginally positive effect on turnout. This effect may increase with more regular use and if Internet voting is always allowed until the close of the traditional poll. However, it is too early to tell on the basis of the experiments so far.’
The full article is here (or available from me on request).
Why the cautious judgement? If the problem is low turnout, then internet voting, then on the basis of the pilots, is not an overnight fix. It might help a little bit, however. In the 14 pilots held in 2003, 12.6% of votes were cast via the internet. If you exclude the pilots where citizens were not automatically sent a postal ballot then 16.7% of votes were cast this way.
That might not sound like a lot but internet voting was much higher in some places than others. It was higher when internet voting pilots had been held before and when internet voting was open until the close of the poll (in some pilots internet voting closed early).
Surveys did show that many people who used internet voting would have voted anyway. Yet in one survey 31% of people suggested that it encouraged them to vote and this figure was higher among the 18–34 age group (37%) than the older groups. Surveys at the time also showed that it was popular with the public and there were no concerns about fraud.
Learning lessons from the earlier pilots is difficult because:
- internet voting was run simultaneously with text message voting, all-postal voting, digital TV and more – when evaluating the pilots it was difficult to work out the effect of one from the others;
- it was ten years since the 2003 elections and the spread of tablets, iphones and smart phones is much broader and attitudes to the internet may have changed; and,
- pilots in local government elections are completely different to national elections. If people were allowed to vote via the internet for a 2015 election, for example. the media hype and the reaction of politicians and citizens would be completely different.
There are lots of reasons why people do not vote. For many, like Russell Brand, it is a conscious decision not to vote. However, the pressures of life, work, family, study and more means that the amount of time that it takes for a citizen to cast a vote can make a real difference to whether they vote or not. Given how low voter turnout (and registration) is in the UK, it is certainly worth looking at ways to make it easier to register and cast a vote, and engaging the public through the web.
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International financial austerity has had dramatic consequences for political leaders around the world, in and out of office. For many it has undermined their political capital as they campaign for (re)election with public deficits and stagnant economies.
The University of East Anglia is hosting the annual PSA Workshop on Political Leadership on 17 January 2014 on ‘Political Leadership and Statecraft in Challenging Times’ to unpack this problem.
The keynote speaker is Tim Bale (Queen Mary, University of London) who will address the workshop on ‘If opposition is an art, is Ed Miliband an artist?’. Other speakers include Paul Whiteley, Andrew Gamble, Mark Bennister, Alan Finlayson and many more.
Panels will focus on how we should conceptualise political leadership and the nature of the challenges facing leaders. They will also explore a range of cases of how leaders have confronted these challenges in the UK and elsewhere.
Registration is now open. It is free for paper givers and £21.95 for non-paper givers. For further information, see: http://politicalleadership.org/events/uea-2014/ or contact me!
This will be my new website soon…it’s currently moving across sites, please bare with me!
Dangers remain with electoral registration changes: Norwich and Cambridge could be amongst the most affected areas
The government is planning to introduce individual electoral registration (IER) in June 2014. A new report and data released from the Electoral Commission suggests its implementation still poses a risk for British democracy.
My earlier research on the likely effects of IER suggested that this would:
- improve confidence in elections, but
- result in a considerable decline in levels of electoral registration, a concern when electoral registration levels are already low in the UK. This would affect particular groups such as students, the mobile and young disproportionately.
- lead to a considerable increase in the costs of running UK elections.
- lead to issues with data management and a need for staff training
The government is trying to prevent a decline though ‘data-matching’ – use the government’s existing records such as the DWP database to improve re-register people automatically. A new report from the Electoral Commission has said that plans to implement IER are ‘on track’ but there remains risks:
- 52% of electoral officials are concerned that they will not have enough money to implement data-matching effectively
- a system for allowing online registration has not been fully tested yet
- although re-registration rates were higher than last thought, there are uneven regional effects ranging from 46.9% in Kensington and Chelsea to 86.4%. ’Students, young adults and private renters’ are also less likely to be re-registered.
The breakdown by wards gives us more detail and shows how students are a key group who might be affected. Amongst the highest wards were:
Market (Cambridge) 75.2% (4813 people)
Wivenhoe Cross (Colchester) 55.2% (3757 people)
University (Norwich) 46.5% (3521 people)
Implementation is everything when it comes to government policy and it is no different with elections. There needs to be adequate funding available for electoral officials in local government if British elections are not to be adversely affected. These reforms come at a time when budgets are already being squeezed because of public spending cuts and the number of elections that held is increasing.
Soon, every citizen in Britain will need to register individually and provide key personal identifiers in order to register. When this was introduced in Northern Ireland there was a significant decline in levels of electoral registration. Research has suggested that a further decline will occur when implemented in Britain too. This is especially troubling since one in five of eligible voters are already thought to not be registered. I wrote a blog about the changes on the Democratic Audit website earlier in the week. But things are moving quickly.
One idea that the government has been exploring to prevent any drop is data-mining. This involves registration officers using other government databases, such as the Department for Work and Pensions, the Student Loans Company etc., to find the names and addresses of people who are not on the register. They can then be written to and invited to register.
The government and Electoral Commission published reports on the effectiveness of data-matching pilots on Wednesday. This or its consequences was not picked up by any media, as far as I am aware, perhaps because there was no Electoral Commission or Cabinet office press release. Sadly for British democracy, the news is not good.
The first thing to say is that the pilots were not a perfect experiment. The Electoral Commission noted that registration officers were hindered by ‘delays and… [needed] a greater level of support’ from the Cabinet Office (p.2). However, the headlines are that:
- The databases used produced low levels of new electoral registrations. If managed differently, there might have been greater returns, the Electoral Commission suggested and the evaluations might have been able to be more certain about whether these were really new registrations or not.
- It was very expensive. Registration officers therefore could not absorb this practice into their everyday practice without significantly more money. Cabinet Office did not publish their expenditure (p.4)so there might be more costs involved in managing the process centrally. This comes at a time of government spending cuts.
The Electoral Commission has therefore concluded that the pilot does ‘not justify the national roll out’ of data-matching. This means that we may still be set for a ‘car-crash’ drop in levels of electoral registration.
We should not be hasty in casting data-mining aside. After all, it did find somenew voters. And what is the monetary value of a registered voter or a vote? Whatever the state of the public finances, democracy must not be compromised. However, there is clearly a need to explore further ways to boost voter registration.
A British Motor Voter Act?
One way that I have suggested that this can be achieved is for the UK to learn from the US experience. In the US in the 1990s a law was passed that expanded the number of locations and opportunities whereby eligible citizens could apply to register to vote. In particular, citizens were to be given a voter registration application when they applied for or renewed a driver’s license, or when applying for (or receiving) services at certain other public offices. Today, a huge proportion of new registrants use this mechanism to register to vote in the US. Data from the shows that 37.1 per cent of registration forms were submitted via motor vehicle agencies in 2010. Over 18 million citizens used this method in 2008. Subsequent empirical studies showed how this (and other methods) could improve registration rates (). Researchers that the effect on registration could have been greater had federal agencies worked harder to enforce the Act.
This might be a more promising way to improve voter registration. When we register for a drivers licence (or access another government service) could a box be provided for us to tick so that we can have our name added to the electoral register? Electoral registration officers could then check and update their records.
No doubt, that would cost money. But elections and democratic representation are worth it.
I have been writing and blogging about the individual electoral registration a lot over the past few two years or so. The legislation has now been passed and we edge nearer and nearer to it becoming a reality.
The Democratic Audit have published the latest of my blogs today, which considers the implementation stages of the changes that could have significant consequences for British democracy.