As scholars such as Susan Hyde have documented, it is now an international norm for national elections to be observed by overseas government officials and international organisations. Even governments that intend to deliberately manipulate the electoral process, counter-intuitively, invite electoral observers to document the quality of election.
Election observation was once limited to newer democracies but it now also common in older democracies such as the UK. The UK general election has been observed twice now by OSCE: in 2005 and 2010.
On Tuesday 5th May I gave an overview of the UK’s systems for running elections, and all of its foibles, to the international observers at a session organised by The Electoral Commission and Dods Training.
I tried to stress three core messages:
- British elections are steeped in history with laws designed many years ago. The effects of laws can change over time, as times change, and may not always be fit for purpose anymore. For example
- The electoral system was designed for a two-party system (which is now creaking)
- The voting process has Victorian origins, requiring people to attend a particular polling station on Thursday, during certain hours (which may not meet people’s lifestyle in the 21st century)
- The cap on spending (set only recently) is not adjusted for inflation (which means that available spending for parties is shrinking – although it is not constraining them yet).
- Major change has been introduced in the area of electoral registration, which will impact on this election for the first time. Individual electoral registration has replaced a system of household registration. This may lead to a decline in already low voter registration rates, although online electoral registration may counteract that. Registration levels, however, are a concern.
- There are aspects of international best practice in the UK, from which many countries can learn, however. One particular innovation is the performance standards scheme.
My slides are here: