Latest Event Updates

The Voter ID debate comes to Britain

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c2bd1-ballotYesterday, the voter ID debate took off in Britain.    Here are some analysis on the Democratic Audit blog:

‘Christmas is a time for tinsel, presents and major policy announcements about British electoral law, it seems.  Yesterday, the government announced it would accept many of the policy proposals laid out by Eric Pickles in his report on Securing the Ballot.  The headlines focussed on the decision to pilot a requirement for voters to show ID before being given their ballot paper in polling stations…..’

Read it all here

Returning Officer Payments in Scotland

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tsj-scotlandThe Scottish Parliament Select Committee on Local Government and Communities  is undertaking a review of the payments made to Returning Officers for their work at elections.

I was asked to give written and oral evidence.

Concerns were raised in the media about the amount of money that Returning Officers receive because they are already highly paid officials.

In my evidence, I suggest that Returning Officers play:

‘3.  …an essential role in the electoral process. They face an increasingly challenging job. They have therefore been able to reclaim a fee for their services to recognise that their role is independent of their other tasks. Some Returning Officers use their fee to pay more junior staff, who work hours above and beyond their normal duties at election time, there should be caution in scrapping or making rapid reductions to it.

4. It is, however, right that the fee is regularly reviewed, especially in the context of resource constraints within electoral services and wider public sector austerity. There might be some opportunity to divert resources to other areas of elections.

5. There should… be a wider review of funding of elections in Scotland and the rest of the UK. Essential to this is the routine reporting of funding and spending to ensure transparency, increase public confidence and allow an analysis of areas requiring further investment or efficiency savings.’

The evidence was covered by the BBC News, BBC Radio Scotland and the Herald Scotland.


Electoral administration at the 2016 US Presidential election

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cwv-eewwiaahow5Electoral administration was a dominant theme in the 2016 US Presidential election campaign.  According to the eventual winner, President-elect Donald Trump, the contest would be rigged against him.

After the election a New York Times Editorial pointed towards other problems…..queues at polling stations, however.  This could amount to ‘poll taxes by another name’.  I say more about this in a new blog on

In advance of the polls, Donald Trump claimed that the US Presidential election would be rigged.  We probably won’t hear those claims again from the 45th American President.

But after an election which put America’s electoral machinery in such a critical limelight it will still need sober and critical post-election evaluation because there were signs, once again, of leaks in the system.

The Trump team went on the offensive looking for incidents of electoral fraud and misconduct.   An elections protection team was established asking for incidents to be reported with a lawsuit was filed in Navada on the conduct of Friday’s early voting.  Meanwhile, civil rights groups organised themselves to prevent legitimate voters from being denied their right to vote – concerned about voter confusion and intimidation from Trump supporters……

Read the full blog here.

The US election won’t be rigged – but the system has to be fixed

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53d74-votingrightsThere are commonly warnings about electoral irregularities in advance of US Presidential elections.  In 2016, however, these warnings are starker than ever before.  I wrote this for The Conversation about whether the decentralised nature of US elections helps or hinders the possibility of things going wrong:

Donald Trump’s claims that the US presidential election will be rigged have rightly been met with outrage and derision. Hillary Clinton called his remarks “horrifying”; incumbent president, Barack Obama, responded that: “there is no serious person out there who would suggest that you could even rig the election.”

He’s not far wrong. Expert assessments have repeatedly demonstrated that voter fraud is exceptionally rare (as is also the case in the UK, by the way). Instead, claims of voter fraud are often made for more disingenuous reasons…..

Read the full blog here

Donald Trump, Brexit and Electoral Fraud

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16471528757_b86c01b734_bAs the US Presidential election reaches an exciting final few days, I wrote this piece for the Washington Post.  It focuses on Donald Trump’s accusations that the election will be rigged, and the similar claims that were made in the UK before the Brexit referendum:

How is Donald Trump’s presidential campaign like the Brexit vote last June in which British voters decided to leave the European Union?

In many, many ways, as commentators have noted.

Both are right-wing populist movements that have beaten expectations. Both Trump and Brexit leaders have drawn support from largely white, older, “left-behind” voters unhappy with the political establishment. Immigration has been a big issue on both sides of the Atlantic. And although there are important differences — one being that Trump appears unlikely to prevail on Election Day — Trump went so far as to call himself “Mr. Brexit” over the summer.

Read the piece in full, here.

An Evaluation of Electoral Administration at the EU Referendum

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27323692585_f68670dd89_bThe UK’s recent Brexit referendum will probably be looked back on, as political scientists say, as a critical juncture in British politics.  It had profound consequences for the governance of Britain, party politics and international relations.

But was it a referendum that was run well?  Did the electoral machinery hold up in the face of high scrutiny?  In the run up to the poll there were concerns raised about electoral fraud and a high profile crash of the voter registration website.

In a new report, undertaken on behalf of the Electoral Commission, Alistair Clark and I evaluate the referendum.  We show that concerns about fraud where eventually misplaced, management systems worked well and electoral officials deserve much praise.  But there were other problems such as evidence that electoral services were underfunded and weaknesses with the systems used to compile the electoral register which suggest long term reforms are needed.

We summarise in a blog on the Democratic Audit and you can download the full report here.

EU Voter Registration Website Crashes

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APPG James BtB report 2015Last night, in the final hours before the EU voter registration deadline, the official registration website crashed.  Many people who were wanting to register because they were inspired by the TV debates, or were planning to register late, were locked out of the referendum.  Many of these were young people wanting to vote for the first time.

The root causes of the problem are clear. In fact, last week I co-blogged Bite the Ballot and Lord Rennard on how to stop a last minute registration rush. Britain’s electoral registers were missing millions of people.  In 2014, there were 7.5 such million missing voters. Since then, the electoral register has contracted further.  In the heat of an impassioned debate about the future of Britain, the demand from unregistered voters overwhelmed the government’s technical infrastructure.

Such a situation is entirely avoidable.  Earlier in the year, our report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Democratic Participation on the ‘Missing Millions’ presented tried and tested solutions to keep the register up-to-date all year round. For example, in many democracies around the world, automatic registration is used to avoid a last minute administrative challenge.  Why set ourselves up for a fall?