The Elections Bill
There is much concern about this bill currently passing through Parliament. A coalition of pro-democracy organisations has come together to write to the newly appointed minister. The text of the letter clearly decribes the dangers of the bill. Further in formation is available from https://unlockdemocracy.org.uk/ Read on for the full text of the letter
To Kemi Badenoch
Minister of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities
22nd October 2021
Congratulations on your appointment to your new role as Minister of State in charge of Elections Policy.
The Democracy Defence Coalition is a new umbrella group made up of dozens of civil society groups who have concerns about several parts of the Elections Bill.
We want to see an Elections Bill passed that genuinely tackles the problems in our democracy and improves the security of our elections. We believe that, despite the substantial budget (up to £230million over 10 years) allocated for its implementation, the bill in its current form fails to do this.
Specifically we are concerned that:
- The most expensive part of this Bill (up to £180million), the proposal to introduce photographic Voter ID will lead to large numbers of eligible voters being turned away from polling stations at future elections. Your predecessor suggested that the actual number was "unknowable", but we have seen estimates that this could range from 128,000 up to over a million. You should be aware that, according to the civil servant who leads on this issue, after the introduction of photographic Voter ID in Northern Ireland, there appeared to be a drop in turnout.
- Ending the independence of the Electoral Commission and putting it under Government control - fair and open elections need to be overseen by an independent body. That is a concept that is generally accepted by democracies around the world. Where elections are overseen by politicians, we see the kind of chaos that took place in the US last November. As Lord Evans, Chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life put it, it's like "handing a toddler a gun". It's a dangerous amount of power to give any government.
- The Bill potentially restricts civil society and other campaign groups from legitimate non-party political campaigning. It also gives Ministers the power to define which campaigns could be allowed - a power that could clearly be used in a party political manner.
- This Bill fails to tackle the real risks to elections in our country - voter disengagement, low turnout, disinformation and big money. Many of these issues were tackled by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in their report on Election Finances. Failure by the Government to implement those recommendations will leave our elections and democracy at real risk.
We have drawn up amendments that we believe will substantially improve the Bill. We hope you will engage positively with this and we would like to meet with you to discuss this urgently. A review of UK election laws is long overdue - it's been nearly 20 years since the last major changes and we can see that a lot has changed in our society since then.
We hope you will agree with us that getting this done right is more important than getting it done quickly - particularly when we are still more than 2 years away from the next General Election.
We look forward to your response.
Naomi Smith - Chief Executive, Best for Britain
Dr Jess Garland - Director of Policy & Research, Electoral Reform Society
Kyle Taylor - Founder & Director, Fair Vote
Freddie Mallinson & Jack McAteer - Founders, Hands Off Our Vote
Mark Kieran - Chief Executive, Open Britain
Tom Brake - Director, Unlock Democracy