Cabinet Office warned: UK electoral system is ‘no longer fit for purpose’

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The Cabinet Office has been warned to take an urgent risk assessment of its ability to conduct a snap election.

The Association of Electoral Administrators (AEA) said: “Electoral reform is needed urgently as the current system is no longer fit for purpose. The electoral community cannot continue performing miracles.”

The AEA issued a report calling on the government to reform election law and address funding and support issues.

They cited “genuine concerns” about the “unrealistic expectation” that elections will always be delivered regardless of the “landscape, timing, funding or the capacity of the professionals delivering them”.

‘Take action before major incident occurs’

The AEA’s Electoral Landscape in 2019 report said: “The time has come for the UK government to take legitimate concerns raised by the us, the Electoral Commission and other stakeholders seriously, and before any major incident occurs that has a negative effect on the trust citizens have with the electoral process.”

The report said: “Electoral legislation – some of it one hundred years old – is becoming ever less compatible with modern expectations and ways of working. Piecemeal attempts to update it is introducing unnecessary risk and inconsistency between different types of election.”

‘Clearly avoidable reasons’

The report called for “a more joined-up approach across government departments” and acknowledgment of “the huge changes electoral administration has seen in the last decades”.

Describing reform of funding and support mechanisms from government as “vital”, the report added: “For entirely understandable but clearly avoidable reasons, there appears to be a lack of technical knowledge and experience that we believe urgently needs addressing.”

‘Desperate need of reform’

Cat Smith MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Voter Engagement, said: “This damming report highlights the wilful neglect of this government towards our electoral system.

“It is widely accepted that our electoral laws are in desperate need of reform, yet the Tories have done nothing to address this. It was even the government’s refusal to innovate that led to the democratic disaster at European elections which saw thousands of electors denied their vote.

“We cannot allow the Tories to undermine our democratic processes, which is why we need a comprehensive review of our entire electoral framework as a matter of urgency.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “We are confident in our system’s preparedness for future elections. But we are always looking for ways to improve our electoral system and will carefully consider the recommendations of this report.

“We appreciate the vital work of electoral administrators in maintaining our democracy.”

‘Cracks are beginning to show’

Peter Stanyon, the AEA chief executive, said: “These are unprecedented times in electoral administration, with yet another unscheduled nationwide poll being prepared for by stretched and often under-resourced teams.
“Electoral administrators always deliver but cracks are beginning to show. The need for urgent and positive action to support electoral delivery is more pressing than ever.”

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