The 2011 general election inquiry

The Justice & Electoral Select Committee has (finally) reported back on its inquiry into the 2011 general election. A lot of recommendations to comment on. I’ll cover the major ones.

Examining the merits of a standalone postal vote versus a referendum in conjunction with the general election when making decisions about future public referenda

I think it was a mistake in hindsight to have the MMP referendum with the general election. There was a dearth of coverage in broadcast media on the referendum as it was focused on the election. It would be better for referenda in future to be postal (preferably with an online option also).

Prohibiting electioneering activity on election day, including the wearing of rosettes, lapel badges, ribbons, streamers, and party apparel, other than the wearing of a party rosette by a scrutineer inside a polling station

Not a big issue, but it is silly to have a prohibition on advertising but still allow the above stuff.

Commissioning a review of existing regulations applying to social media on election day, to determine whether they are workable

It got very silly when people were warned that even tweeting about the weather could be an offence as it could discourage some people from voting. The law needs to distinguish between communications aimed at persuading people how to vote, and communications that are just sharing how people voted etc.

The aim of the non-electioneering law on e-day is to stop people being bullied into how to vote. It isn’t meant to stop conversations – even online ones.

Amending the 1993 to ensure that there is a significant penalty to act as a deterrent to failing to file a return in a deliberate attempt to defeat the operation of electoral law

Sensible. The current law encourages parties to file no return, as it is a lesser penalty than a false return.

Amending Part 6 of the Electoral Act 1993 to authorise the Electoral Commission to use an EasyVote card as the record an ordinary vote has been issued and as evidence that a special voter is eligible to vote, and to compile manual or electronic records of who has cast an ordinary or special vote using the EasyVote card or other verification methods

That is a very good idea. An electronic record of who has voted (but not how they voted) would provide invaluable demographic data which could be useful in efforts to increase turnout.

Amending the Electoral Act 1993 to make it clear that the Electoral Commission has the power to recalculate and amend the allocation of list seats for an election as the result of a successful election petition regarding an electorate seat

This is important, albeit unlikely. If (for example) a party got 4% of the vote and lost an electorate seat by 10 votes, then they get no seats in Parliament. If an election petition concluded they actually won the electorate seat then there is no mechanism for them to get the four or five list MPs they would have got if they had been declared winner of the electorate seat initially. This change would remedy that.

Examining the current electoral enforcement provisions to determine whether they are adequate

I’m disappointed this recommendation is not stronger. The Police have shown for three elections in a row that they have no interest in enforcing electoral law, and worse little knowledge of it. Their decisions in 2005 were legally incompetent, and they never acted on scores of referrals in both 2008 and 2011. I will be very upset if no change is made in this area, as it is dangerous to have no effective enforcement of electoral law.

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