October 23, 2014

Electoral Omission

The administration of elections in the UK remains dangerously inefficient and seriously open to fraud according to a new study which accuses the body responsible for overseeing fair and democratic election in the UK as failing to focus on its basic regulatory purpose.

Electoral Omission points to a sharp decline in the quality of the UK’s electoral registers. In 2005, there were approximately 7 million errors on the electoral register compared to between 13 and 15.5 million in 2011 and 2014. The Electoral Commission’s own data revealed:

  • 8.5million individuals entitled to vote (18%) were not included on the registers for their current addresses;
  • The register included over 6.5million names of persons who were no longer resident at the registered address, had died or has been mistakenly or fraudulently included.*
  • When Northern Ireland is included the error total rises by over 600,000.

Authored by one of the UK’s leading constitutional experts, Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, the paper concludes that there remains within the various bodies responsible for electoral administration a culture of complacency and denial. The paper says the Electoral Commission has taken few meaningful steps to address the recommendation of the Committee on Standards in Public Life that it focus on its job as a regulator rather than attempting to influence policy on wider constitutional matters such as legislation of the funding of political parties, or attempting to promote voter engagement.

It points to recent examples of continued regulatory failure:

  • The Electoral Commission allowed Britain First (a breakaway group of former BNP activists) to use the description ‘Remember Lee Rigby’ on ballot papers for the elections in May to the European Parliament.
  • The mayoral and council election of 22 May in the London borough of Tower Hamlets saw greatly delayed vote counts, multiple complaints and a cross-party election petition. Investigative journalists gave alarming reports of allegedly fraudulent voter registration yet the Electoral Commission’s system of performance indicators was of the highest quality.0

The report also points to indications that voting fraud is a widespread problem including:

  1. The number of proven cases of serious electoral crime that led to convictions. Since 2001 at least 37 people have received jail sentences for electoral crimes in 18 different cases.
  2. Thousands of fraudulent electoral registrations and votes are involved. Reported offences in Ashford, Blackburm, Bradford and Slough each involved hundreds of electors while the total of fraudulent votes in the elections in three Birmingham wards in 2004 was two to three thousand.

It recommends:

  1. There should be targets for the maximum number of omissions and errors in the electoral register as well as an annual check to measure the accuracy of the register.
  2. A small council tax rebate – rather than a fine – to encourage people to complete and return voter registration forms.
  3. The Electoral Commission should focus on election administration alone rather than dissipate its energies on policymaking advice or broadening voter engagement
  4. A new, specialist standards unit should take over enforcement of election administration responsibilities to ensure the Electoral Commission is doing its job.
  5. The law should be reformed to make it easier to bring election petitions in cases of alleged electoral fraud.


Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky

Former Senior Consultant to Policy Exchange, Political Institutions

Join our mailing list