Elections Act 2022

The Elections Act 2022 is an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, introduced to the House of Commons in July 2021, and receiving Royal Assent on 28 April 2022.[1] The Act introduces voter photo identification for in-person voting to Great Britain for the first time.[2][3] It will give government new powers over the independent elections regulator;[4] the Electoral Commission has said it is "concerned" about its independence from political influence in the future.[5][6][7]

Elections Act 2022
Act of Parliament
Long titleAn Act to make provision about the administration and conduct of elections, including provision designed to strengthen the integrity of the electoral process; about overseas electors; about voting and candidacy rights of EU citizens; about the designation of a strategy and policy statement for the Electoral Commission; about the membership of the Speaker's Committee; about the Electoral Commission's functions in relation to criminal proceedings; about financial information to be provided by a political party on applying for registration; for preventing a person being registered as a political party and being a recognised non-party campaigner at the same time; about regulation of expenditure for political purposes; about disqualification of offenders for holding elective offices; about information to be included in electronic campaigning material; and for connected purposes.
Citation2022 c. 37
Introduced byKemi Badenoch, Minister of State for Levelling Up Communities (Commons)
Lord True, Minister of State for the Cabinet Office (Lords)
Territorial extent United Kingdom
Dates
Royal assent28 April 2022
Status: Current legislation
History of passage through Parliament
Text of statute as originally enacted

According to academic research presented to the House of Commons, these changes may result in 1.1 million fewer voters at the next general election due to the photo ID requirement.[8]

Key elements of the act were opposed by parliamentary committees, the House of Lords, the Electoral Commission, devolved governments, and academics.[6] Changes proposed by the House of Lords were rejected by Boris Johnson's government.[6][9] William Wallace, Baron Wallace of Saltaire, described it as a "nefarious piece of legislation" that is "shabby and illiberal".[10][11] Toby James, a professor of politics and public policy, has said "the inclusiveness of elections has been undermined by the act and it weakens the UK’s claim to be a beacon of democracy".[6] The Labour Party said the Conservatives are "trying to rig the rules of the game to help themselves".[12]

BackgroundEdit

Other countries with compulsory voter ID laws tend to also have compulsory national identity cards, whereas the United Kingdom does not (see Identity Cards Act 2006).[6] The government's research suggests that 9% of voters do not have eligible identification. A lack of eligible identification is more common in individuals who are disabled, unemployed, or without educational qualifications.[6]

There is little evidence of serious voter fraud in UK elections. Between 2015 and 2019, during which three general elections were held and 153 million in-person votes cast, only 88 allegations were made of voter fraud.[13] Between 2010 and 2018, there were just two convictions for voter fraud.[14]

Photographic identification is mandatory to vote in elections in Northern Ireland.[15]

A voter ID trial was held for the 2018 United Kingdom local elections by the national Conservative government. Voters in 5 local authorities in England (Bromley, Gosport, Swindon, Watford and Woking) were required to show ID before voting.[16][17] The legal basis for the trial has been contested.[18]

Voter ID legislation was part of the 2021 Queen's Speech.[19]

ProvisionsEdit

Notable provisions of the act include:

  • Requiring photo identification to vote in-person.
  • Ability for government ministers to provide a "strategy and policy statement", containing government priorities for elections, to the Electoral Commission. Commissioners must have due regard for the statement and publish annual reports explaining what actions they have taken to implement it.
  • Changes to the Electoral Commission, including placing it under the supervision of a government minister. It was previously independent of government and accountable directly to parliament.
  • Changing mayoral and police and crime commissioner elections from a supplementary vote system to a first-past-the-post one.
  • Removing the restriction on British citizens who have been resident overseas for more than 15 consecutive years from voting in UK elections.
  • Changes to voter eligibility of EU citizens. EU citizens living in the UK prior to 1 January 2021 will be allowed to vote in future UK local elections. EU citizens arriving in the UK after that date will only be allowed to vote if there is a reciprocal agreement for UK citizens resident in that country.[20]

Other provisions include extending the current imprint rules onto digital election material,[21] and tightening spending limits on third parties.

CriticismEdit

The act was criticised for permitting as acceptable voter identification "an Older Person’s Bus Pass, an Oyster 60+ Card, a Freedom Pass", while not allowing 18+ student Oyster cards, national railcards, or student ID cards.[12][22] An amendment in the House of Lords to list these as accepted forms of voter identification was rejected by the Conservative government.[12] Critics have said the list discriminates against younger people, who more often vote Labour; in the 2019 United Kingdom general election 56% of voters aged 18–24 voted Labour whereas 67% of 70+ voters voted Conservative, according to polling by YouGov.[23][12]

The Labour Party has accused the government of trying to "choose voters".[12] A column in The National said the real intention of the act is to make it harder for anti-Conservative demographics to vote.[13]

Bob Kerslake, former Head of the Home Civil Service, has claimed the changes to mayoral and police elections are motivated by a perceived advantage the Conservatives have under first-past-the-post due to vote splitting. Kerslake noted that of the past ten metro mayors, only two have been Conservative.[14]

The Electoral Commissioners wrote to government ministers urging for the independence of the commission to be retained.[24] The letter said "it is our firm and shared view that [...] enabling the government to guide the work of the commission is inconsistent with the role that an independent electoral commission plays in a healthy democracy".[25] It added that "the Statement has no precedent in the accountability arrangements of electoral commissions in other comparable democracies, such as Canada, Australia or New Zealand."[24]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Elections Bill". Parliament of the United Kingdom. 5 July 2021. p. 1. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  2. ^ Allegretti, Aubrey (5 July 2021). "Millions in UK face disenfranchisement under voter ID plans". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  3. ^ Webster, Julia (5 July 2021). "New Elections Bill to 'protect democracy,' says government". BBC. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  4. ^ Lothian-McLean, Moya (10 January 2022). "Opinion; Boris Johnson Is Revealing Who He Really Is". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 10 April 2022.
  5. ^ "The controversial new laws rushed through by the government this week". The Big Issue. 30 April 2022. Retrieved 30 April 2022.
  6. ^ a b c d e f James, Toby. "Democracy undermined: elections in the UK are changing – here's how". The Conversation. Retrieved 30 April 2022.
  7. ^ "Electoral Commission 'concerned' after Tories vote to put it under government control". The Independent. 28 April 2022. Retrieved 30 April 2022.
  8. ^ "The Elections Bill, Report".
  9. ^ "Elections Act 2022: Consideration of Lords amendments".
  10. ^ Saltaire, Wallace (25 February 2022). "Elections Bill is a nefarious piece of legislation". The Time. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 18 April 2022.
  11. ^ Rocha Menocal, Alina (18 April 2022). "Why the UK Elections Bill undermines democracy". openDemocracy. Retrieved 18 April 2022.
  12. ^ a b c d e "'A full-fronted attack on our democracy': New voter ID laws make it harder for young people to vote". The Big Issue. 28 April 2022. Retrieved 30 April 2022.
  13. ^ a b "The REAL Scottish Politics: Here's why Tory bill is so disturbing". The National. Retrieved 30 April 2022.
  14. ^ a b "With all eyes on Ukraine, the UK is quietly set to disenfranchise 2 million citizens | Bob Kerslake". the Guardian. 6 April 2022. Retrieved 30 April 2022.
  15. ^ "Elections". NI Direct. NI Direct. 13 November 2015. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  16. ^ Swinford, Steven (27 December 2016). "Voters may have to show ID to combat voter fraud in 'vulnerable' areas". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  17. ^ Press Association (28 April 2018). "Polling station voter ID plans are deeply flawed, say critics". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 April 2018.
  18. ^ Walker, Peter (6 June 2018). "UK's voter ID trial in local elections could be illegal – barristers". Retrieved 6 June 2018.
  19. ^ "Queen's Speech: What did she say at the State Opening of Parliament?". The Independent. 11 May 2021. Retrieved 12 May 2021.
  20. ^ "Changes for EU Citizens". The Electoral Commission. Retrieved 30 April 2022.
  21. ^ "Significant changes proposed to UK elections – Electoral Commission responds". Electoral Commission. 5 July 2021. p. 1. Retrieved 5 July 2021.
  22. ^ "Elections Bill, as introduced in the Lords".
  23. ^ McDonnell, Adam; Curtis, Chris (17 December 2019). "How Britain voted in the 2019 general election". YouGov.
  24. ^ a b "Letter from Commissioners: Strategy and Policy Statement measures in the Elections Bill". Electoral Commission. 21 February 2022. Retrieved 7 September 2022.
  25. ^ "UK elections watchdog warns bill threatens its independence". the Guardian. 21 February 2022. Retrieved 30 April 2022.