FINAL REPORT – English Local Elections (including Voter ID Pilots) 03/05/18

bromley-polling-station.jpgAll observers were trained and briefed on the process of observation in the days before polling day. The briefing for the Northern Councils was held in Manchester on Saturday 28th April and the briefing for the Voter ID pilots took place in London on the morning of Wednesday 2nd May before teams were sent to their various areas of observation.

A final debriefing took place on the morning of Friday 4th May in London.

 Methodology in Voter ID Pilot Areas

Democracy Volunteers deployed teams across the five councils conducting Voter ID Pilots on May 3rd. Teams of observers were deployed as follows:

  • Bromley          2 Teams of four observers
  • Gosport           1 Team of four observers
  • Swindon          2 Teams of four observers
  • Watford           1 Team of four observers
  • Woking           2 Teams of two observers

The number of polling stations to visit differed dramatically between the council areas and this explains the differences in deployed team size. As such the number of polling stations observed across the five councils was:

  • Bromley          63 Polling stations out of a possible 185        (34%)
  • Gosport           27 Polling stations out of a possible 44          (61%)
  • Swindon          72 Polling stations out of a possible 102        (70%)
  • Watford           47 Polling stations out of a possible 58          (81%)
  • Woking           34 Polling stations out of a possible 43          (79%)

This meant the 29 observers visited 243 (56%) of the polling stations across the five council areas.As well as observers from the United Kingdom (15), teams that covered these councils included election experts and experienced observers from Republic of Ireland (3), Russia (3), Germany (2), Canada (1), France (1), Hungary (1), Lithuania (1), Italy (1) and Poland (1). All observers were accredited by the Electoral Commission to observe the elections.

Observers attended polling stations in teams of two. This started with the opening of polls at 7am and ended at 10pm. Observations lasted no less than 30 minutes and no more than 45 minutes per polling station. On exiting the polling station, the two observers completed an online form with their immediate report of their observations at that polling station.

Methodology in Other Councils

Democracy Volunteers deployed teams across several other councils conducting local elections on May 3rd. Teams of observers were deployed as follows:

  • Kirklees                       1 Teams of four observers
  • Calderdale                   1 Team of four observers
  • Oldham                       1 Teams of two observers
  • Bradford                      1 Team of four observers
  • Tower Hamlets           2 Teams of two observers

In total 78 polling stations were observed across Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees and Oldham. These were councils identified as being areas concerned by the so-called Pickles Report.

We observed 39 polling stations in Tower Hamlets and a report on these will be issued in the coming weeks. We have been in contact with Tower Hamlets Council for several weeks and attended some of their training events, postal vote opening and other aspects of the voting process to give us clearer knowledge of the electoral process.

In total, as well as observers from the United Kingdom (34), teams that covered all the councils, being observed in England, included election experts and experienced observers from Russia (4), Republic of Ireland (3), Germany (2), Canada (1), France (1), Hungary (1), Lithuania (1), Italy (1) and Poland (1). All observers were accredited by the Electoral Commission to observe the elections.

Observers attended polling stations in teams of two. This started with the opening of polls at 7am and ended at 10pm. Observations lasted no less than 30 minutes and no more than 45 minutes per polling station. On exiting the polling station, the two observers completed an online form with their immediate report of their observations at that polling station.

‘Family Voting’ persists in being a problem in the UK electoral process. This is one that should be dealt with by electoral authorities.

We also attended postal vote opening in Camden Borough Council.

CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

What is clear to the observer group is that the elections were invariably very well run, and staff were well trained and conscious of the rules, especially in the Pilot Voter ID areas. Councils ensured sufficient staff were available to conduct the voter ID trials and to facilitate voters’ access to the polls with public information campaigns and literature in polling stations to assist those without the correct ID. However, we believe that reflecting on our recommendations would be beneficial to an improvement in the electoral process.

VOTER ID TRIALS RECOMMENDATIONS

R1. The pilots took place in largely suburban areas which many people, including polling staff and ourselves, did not think were representative of the general population. We would recommend that in the proposed 2019 pilot areas more of those areas identified in ‘Securing the Ballot’ take part in the trials.[1]

R2. The Pilots were given resources in terms of public information campaigns and also through extra staff in polling stations. We believe that if voter ID is to become an aspect of UK voting in the future it should be considered normal to have more than the present two members of staff in polling stations.

R3. Other forms of ID should be considered as part of the standardised ID types which are tested.[2]

R4. We believe that attestation as to identity, as a form of acceptable ID, was too readily available in areas where polling cards were the required form of ID.[3] We believe allowing party representatives, invariably tellers, to attest to the identity of a voter, at the polling station when the elector asserted that they had misplaced their polling card, is too open to question and possible misuse and it should be considered, in future, to be an unacceptable practice. (We will be issuing a series of Freedom of Information Requests to evaluate the number of attestations there were across the five council areas).

R5. Some of the ID requirements did lead to some, almost perverse, episodes. Clarity of the rules of attestation as a form of ID should be clearer.[4]

R6. Our observers saw a voter refused a vote because someone had apparently already voted in his name using an acceptable form of ID (a freedom pass). He had his polling card and passport with him ready to vote. The authorities should explain how this is possible when voter ID is designed, and intended, to stop this possibility. The voter was issued with a so-called ‘tendered ballot’ which has no status to be counted. We believe it is important to assess how many tendered ballots were issued across the five councils to help evaluate the extent to which the use of ID effectively prevented the possibility of personation. (We will be issuing a series of Freedom of Information Requests to evaluate the number of tendered ballots there were across the five council areas).

R7. Polling staff should be provided with a much more detailed handbook of acceptable ID. Although most voters presented passports or driving licences we did question whether staff would know the difference between a real ID from another EU country, who could vote in the election, and a fake one.[5]

R8. Staff should receive more training on how to annotate the forms of ID being used.[6]

GENERAL

We have noted that observers are still not an accepted, let alone anticipated, part of the process. Swindon Council was very reluctant to admit observers as they were not on their prescribed list of attendees at the polling stations. This made access difficult at times as we assume the so-called list was actually a list of polling agents which accredited observers would not appear on. After some time, the council issued a list of all the observers in the UK to the polling stations. This was, of course, unnecessary as all accredited observers should be allowed reasonable access to the polling stations of their choice, without notice.

We also faced outright opposition to our attendance at a postal vote opening in one London Borough at which a council officer suggested that our accredited observers could be ejected from a count if she deemed it appropriate. She seemed wholly unaware of the rights and responsibilities of observers and her attitude was rather surprising. Other councils were very welcoming and understood that the UK’s accreditation of observers is a fundamental aspect of strengthening public confidence in the electoral process by citizen observation of our elections.

R9. Returning Officers should train staff as to the existence of, and the possibility of the attendance of, observers at elections. They should also explain their duties, if possible their code of conduct and make them aware of the international agreements to which the UK is a signatory encouraging election observation.

R10. We consistently see high levels of ‘family voting’ at UK polling stations. We consistently see breaches of the secret ballot where voters are observed, assisted or openly directed how to vote by family members. We believe that the election authorities are starting to understand the scale of this problem and some of the publicity from the Electoral Commission before the May elections did identify this. We recommend that the Cabinet Office should work with the Electoral Commission to produce signage and literature aimed at those most vulnerable to this problem in the next round of local elections. This could even form a pilot of its own.

R11. Ballot boxes are often improperly or not uniformly sealed, impossible to seal properly or not able to be proven to be sealed. We recommend that all ballot boxes should be standardised across all council areas.

R12. Because of R11 we also recommend that there should the standardisation of the sealing of ballot boxes with numbered seals which are recorded at the sealing of the ballot box and these are placed in a public space for them to be checked easily.[7]

R13. Electoral Commission ID badges for observers should clearly state the name of the accredited organisation ‘Democracy Volunteers’ rather than simply ‘Organisation’ to avoid confusion in polling stations and counting venues.

R14. We are often asked how old children can be when accompanying their family into polling stations. When a small child attends with their parent we never record this as ‘family voting’ indeed we feel this is an integral part of the process of normalising the voting process to those who are not yet able to. Although, we feel this could be rather prescriptive we do feel that a ‘rule of thumb’ would be worth adopting by councils and presiding officers. In Norway, we have observed that children can enter the polling booth with their parent if they cannot see above the shelf. We feel this is a simple and efficient rule for UK councils to adopt.

[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/securing-the-ballot-review-into-electoral-fraud

[2] One Police Officer was turned away from voting despite showing his police ID card. Another voter with their NHS card was declined their vote.

[3] In a number of polling stations voters were able to have their identity attested to by presiding officers and polling clerks who knew them – this was the case in Swindon. However, our observers also witnessed party tellers, who were at the door to take numbers for their party campaigns, being used as witnesses to allow some voters to vote.

[4] This recommendation is based on an observation group meeting a presiding officer being forced to turn away a male voter whom he had known personally for 35 years.

[5] In our recent observation of the Netherlands all polling stations were equipped with a handbook of all acceptable IDs.

[6] One observer group noted that staff were recording bank statements (which is valid as an ID form with another valid form in some of the ID areas) as BS which is the correct coding for a Bail Sheet. The correct code for a bank statement should have been ST.

[7] Some Councils already do this, but we believe it should be regulated to all councils.

English Local Elections 2018 Final Report

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