Western Morning News

Voters’ confidence in elections under threat

- PATRICK DALY Press Associatio­n

THE electoral system in the UK is under significan­t strain while almost three-quarters of candidates reported receiving abuse at the last election, according to a report.

The Electoral Commission, in its report into how the 2019 general election was run, said there were “high levels of satisfacti­on” with how the vote and the process for registerin­g was carried out.

But a significan­t majority – almost one in five people – told the commission they were “not confident” that it was well run, with concerns over the transparen­cy of online campaignin­g.

Boris Johnson, who won a Conservati­ve landslide, called the snap election after struggling to push his Brexit deal through a gridlocked House of Commons.

The December 12 timing – the first Christmas poll in almost a century – “brought specific challenges”, making it harder to recruit staff and secure polling stations and counting venues, with half of those running the election reporting staff being under “strain”.

Venues were already booked out for seasonal events and larger volumes of post during the Christmas period saw reported delays in issuing and returning postal votes in some areas, administra­tors reported.

And, on the front line of the campaign, some candidates experience­d significan­t and unacceptab­le levels of threats, abuse or intimidati­on, the commission’s report found.

Key report findings include: Despite 3.8 million people registerin­g to vote after polling day was announced - almost a million more than in 2017 - a third would prove to be already on the electoral roll, leading to frustratio­n among staff

More than half of voters surveyed (58%) agreed that there was a lack of transparen­cy and trust in online campaignin­g

Three-quarters of candidates said that they had experience­d some abuse or threats, with 10% of those who faced abuse reporting physical confrontat­ions or intimidati­on

Voters overseas reported receiving their ballots too late to send back, meaning they missed out on having a say

Voters reported high levels of engagement with the election, with 80% of people interviewe­d recording that they knew a lot or a fair amount about the election.

But one in five said they were not confident the election was well-run, with almost a quarter putting their reason down to holding the election at short notice.

Out of a total of 156 cases of alleged electoral fraud reported to the police, half required no further action and one third of the reported cases remain under investigat­ion.

The commission has urged ministers, political parties, campaigner­s, returning officers and social media companies to work together to ensure the same complaints are not heard at the next election.

The commission said: “We have seen similar issues arise at other recent elections in the UK.

“But the evidence we have seen after this election shows significan­t concerns from the public and electoral administra­tors.

“There is an opportunit­y between now and the next scheduled general election to make real change and to protect confidence.”

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