The Government has published a Command Paper today (13 July 2011) which sets out draft legislation on three electoral administration provisions for pre-legislative scrutiny. The draft legislation is accompanied by Explanatory Notes in order to assist the reader of the provisions and to help inform consideration of them.
The draft legislation is intended to form part of a larger package of measures which will also include draft legislation on individual electoral registration (IER) which has been published separately for pre-legislative scrutiny.
The draft legislation addresses particular issues that have been raised by MPs and peers, and by electoral stakeholders, and proposes practical and sensible changes that will help to deliver more effective electoral administration.
The draft legislation includes provisions which extend the timetable for UK Parliamentary elections from 17 to 25 days and similarly extends the timetable for UK Parliamentary by-elections. The existing timetable for UK Parliamentary elections and by-elections is considerably shorter than the electoral timetable for all other UK polls. The very limited time available for the postal vote process compromises effective participation in elections by certain types of voter, particularly overseas and service voters. Moreover, the existing timetable puts considerable pressure on administrative processes by compressing a large number of tasks into a short period, which represents significant risks to the effective conduct of elections.
Extending the timetable for UK Parliamentary elections and by-elections will bring benefits for voters and administrators, as well as adding to the robustness and integrity of the electoral process. The Government proposes that, within this extended timetable:
- the deadline for parties to nominate candidates should continue to be 6 days after the start of the timetable, so parties will have the same time as now to put forward candidates to stand for election. In practice this will now be 19, rather than 11, days before the date of poll, which will allow administrators to begin printing ballot papers further in advance of polling day;
- provision should be made for updated versions of the electoral register to be created at an earlier point in the timetable to allow postal votes to be distributed to new registration applicants earlier than is currently possible.
We also propose to address an oversight in existing legislation passed during the previous Government’s time in office which allows a candidate standing for a single party in a UK Parliamentary election to use an emblem on their ballot paper, but does not allow jointly-nominated candidates to do so. This issue has primarily affected candidates standing on behalf of the Labour Party and the Co-operative Party. The proposal will ensure that electoral law is consistent on this issue.
The draft legislation also makes changes to the existing system for reviews of polling districts and places in Great Britain for UK Parliamentary elections to bring them in line with the five year cycle for UK Parliamentary boundary reviews implemented by the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 and the proposed cycle of Parliamentary terms under the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill.