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The #Barnet blog: context and research on today’s polling problems

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New Research on Individual Electoral Registration - Policy ImplicationsAs 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:

  1.  Voters are often turned away from the polls

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.


Our survey of European Electoral Management Boards

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romaniaEarlier 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).

Romania1In 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.

UK Parliamentarians endorse voter registration reforms

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APPG James BtB report 2015Last month, Bite the Ballot and I presented a draft report to the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Democratic Participation.  The report pointed out, at a time when millions are missing from the electoral register, what can be done to bring about a more inclusive electoral register.

The APPG has now published a final version of this report.  It clearly sets out 25 measures that can be introduced.  It is also a call to action for politicians, civil society groups and local authorities.

The issue is especially pressing as we enter the final stages of the campaign for the Brexit referendum.

APPG James RennardA report on the 2014 registers by the Electoral Commission suggested that 7.5 million people could be missing.   Our analysis, is that roughly 3 million of the ‘missing millions’ are from the 18 to 30 age group.  This was before individual electoral registration was introduced, which my recent survey suggested has negatively affected completeness further and also had many unintended effects on electoral services.  All the findings are in the report.

Comments welcome!

Why do poll workers volunteer?

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Electoral musical chairs comes to Wales - will voters and politicians lose out?Elections could not happen without the hundreds of thousands of people who give up their time to staff polling stations and ensure votes are issued, cast & counted. These poll workers are a crucial resource for electoral officials and many countries experience problems recruiting sufficient numbers of poll workers. Indeed, approximately 120,000 people are estimated to have worked in the 2015 British general election.

Given these are potentially high stress, low pay temporary positions, this poses an important question for electoral democracy and those interested in electoral integrity: why do people choose to give up their time to provide this crucial service to their fellow citizens?

Alistair Clark and I present some findings in an conference paper for the UK Political Studies Association conference next week.

It is a first draft so any comments welcome!

Download it here: here

New report: Getting the missing millions back on the electoral register

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Toby James presenting the report to an All Party Parliamentary Group on 8th March 2016.

The number of people on the UK electoral register has been in long-term decline.  It was estimated that up to 7.5 million people were not registered in 2014.


At the end of the transition to individual electoral registration, there are another 1.4 million fewer names on the register. Dramatically, the number of attainers, our next generation of voters, fell by 40%.

Last week, Bite the Ballot and I presented a draft report to the All-Party Parliamentary Party on Democratic Participation.  This provided a 24 point action plan for how levels of electoral registration could be improved.

report on the missing millionsThe report also included some headlines from a survey of electoral officials that I have undertaken.  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 without experienced, dedicated and motivated staff who aren’t stretched beyond capacity.

You can read more about the report in this PSA blog.

And download the report here:

Individual Electoral Registration Survey

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I have recently sent out a survey to electoral officials in local government to try to assess the full effects of individual electoral registration in Britain.

The questions posed are based on statements from interviews with electoral officials in 2011 about what they thought the effects would be.  The aim is to see whether what was anticipated, really happened.

It also incorporates standard questions from other studies of local government about the workplace.

The survey was given to current electoral officials for feedback before sending out into the field.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the survey.

The Political Leaders books: in The Times Top 6 best politics books & a Cambridge Workshop

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Our British Leaders books, published earlier in the year, made The Times Top 6 politics books of 2015, it was announced last weekend.

I recently gave a talk which explained the method we used to assess political leaders at Churchill College, University of Cambridge.  The video is below: