Getting students onto the electoral register

The University of East Anglia

The University of East Anglia

Introducing individual electoral registration into Britain was long predicted to have had an impact on student registration. Previously, they were automatically enrolled by their universities; now they are not, and many have fallen off the electoral roll as a result. But an amendment passed in the Lords this week would let them register at the same time as they enrolled at university.

With  Lord Chris Rennard and Bite the Ballot’s Josh Dell, we blog about this on the Democratic Audit.


Centralising Electoral Management

policy_studiesWould elections be better run if they were organised centrally by the state?  Or should local electoral officials be given more discretion to accommodate local preferences?

This debate has ran most prominently for decades in the US.  But there has been little academic research on the topic.  I’m therefore pleased to see my article on this in volume 38, issue 1 of Policy Studies.

If you have access, the article is here.  If not, feel free to email me and ask for a copy and I’ll happily send it over.

Here’s the abstract:

‘The public administration of elections frequently fails. Variation in the performance of electoral management bodies around the world has been demonstrated, illustrated by delays in the count, inaccurate or incomplete voter registers, or severe queues at polling stations. Centralising the management of the electoral process has often been proposed as a solution. There has been little theorisation and no empirical investigations into the effects that centralising an already decentralised system would have, however. This article addresses this lacuna by conceptualising centralisation through the literature on bureaucratic control and discretion. It then empirically investigates the effects through a case study of centralisation in two UK referendums. Semi-structured interviews were used with those who devised the policy instrument and those who were subject to it. The introduction of central directions had some of the desired effects such as producing more consistent services and eliminating errors. It also had side effects, however, such as reducing economic efficiency in some areas and overlooking local knowledge. Furthermore, the reforms caused a decline of staff morale, job satisfaction and souring of relations amongst stakeholder organisations. The process of making organisational change therefore warrants closer attention by policy-makers and future scholarship on electoral integrity.’



The Voter ID debate comes to Britain

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

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

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

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

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.