Latest Event Updates
Electoral 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 electoralmanagement.com
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.
There 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
As 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?
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.
The 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.
Last 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?
As the UK heads to the polls for ‘Super Thursday’ today’s headlines are being taken over by events in Barnet. Reports are that many people are being turned away from the polls because their name is not on the register. It seems that many polling stations had wrong/incomplete registers. The Independent are reporting that:
‘An estimated 250,000 people were going to the polls in Barnet to vote for the London Mayor, London Assembly members and council by-election in one ward.’
It so happens we’ve been doing some research on this. Here are some important points:
Voters are often turned away from the polls
- Alistair Clark and I did a survey of polling stations at the 2015 general election. We found that the polls generally go smoothly in the UK, so events on this scale are not representative of the whole of the UK where the polling process generally goes smoothly. BUT...
- We did find that two-thirds of polling stations turned away at least one voter because their name was not on the electoral register. The current evidence is therefore that voters are turned away from the polls more frequently than thought. In general though, it is because the electoral registers are not complete. Their levels of completeness have been in long-term decline and this has been accelerated by the introduction of individual electoral registration. It is not clear yet what the source of the problem is in Barnet, however.
2. Staff morale and resources in electoral services is a key problem
- Today’s Super Thursday is the first election since the completion of individual electoral registration (IER). In December 2015, people who had not re-registered under this system were removed from the electoral roll.
- But one under reported effect of IER is the effect that it has had on the staff who run elections. In the Missing Millions report that I published with Bite the Ballot last month it was revealed that electoral services up and down the country have faced a perfect storm of challenges under IER. Moving to IER has involved major organisational and technological change in the context of major cuts to local government funding. Half of electoral administrators said that they had thought about leaving their job at some point in the last year. Why does this matter? Because running elections is difficult and we will only see more problems like those seen today in Barnet without experienced, dedicated and motivated staff who aren’t stretched beyond capacity.
3. This could be avoided in the future with resources and electronic poll books
- Individual errors happen. And with millions of votes being cast, and thousands of staff working on election day, this has to be acknowledged. But in our report, we suggest some reforms that could help problems of this sort being avoided:
- Stronger investment in electoral services.
- Monitor the resources and workplace experiences of electoral service staff
- The use of electronic poll books. In Chicago, rather than relying on correct paper copies to be delivered to polling stations, polling staff have access to a live electronic register. This ensures that the latest and correct register is available and allows citizens to vote at any polling station.
Earlier in the month I attended the 13th meeting of Electoral Management Bodies organised by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, held in Bucharest, Romania. Leontine Loeber and I presented our proposed research project on ‘Improving electoral management: The organisational determinants of electoral integrity’.
The aim of the project is to increase the existing understanding of the variation in institutional design of EMBs worldwide and the impact of EMB institutional design for election integrity. The project’s methods involve launching the first-ever survey of electoral administrators across Europe. The project team includes researchers from UEA, but also Holly Ann Garnett (McGill University Canada), Carolien van Ham and (University of New South Wales, Australia).
In the conclusion of the conference, the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe endorsed the project to undertake a survey of electoral management bodies’ personnel in Europe and encourages electoral management bodies to nominate a survey facilitator and to complete the survey.
We plan to present the findings of the project at a future Venice Commission conference. Watch this space.