Britain’s election rules are clearer, stronger and in better shape than two years ago, according to a new study which held a magnifying glass to voting protocol.
Political scientists at Brunel University London surveyed election agents working on the 2017 general election in a fact-finding report for the Electoral Commission.
Nearly 1,000 Conservative, Labour, Liberal, Plaid Cymru, Scottish National Party (SNP) and UKIP electoral agents reported on how the election was run this year. The team then compared their views with results dating back to 2005.
The party officials said they were very satisfied with election administration, the clarity of rules on spending and donations, and had few concerns about fraud.
“This shows the election rules are bedded in, which suggests that we can be confident in the process here in the UK,” said Brunel’s head of social and political science, Professor Justin Fisher.
People have been using the current rules since 2001, he added “and we have just got better at it. Also, the commission’s guidance has improved in response to what the electoral officers asked for. It shows there’s a positive outcome from bringing elections under the umbrella of the electoral commission which is reflected in these results.”
Asked whether they are happy with how the election was run overall, 76% of the electoral officers said they were, compared with a 71% in 2015. Only 7% said they are dissatisfied.
The nomination process was the biggest reason agents gave for saying they were unhappy with the election’s organisation. But managing postal voting, the count and the snap election’s nearness to local elections also figured. Indeed, the sudden calling of the election was the main cause for dissatisfaction.
The agents had a better grasp of the rules on party spending and donations in 2017, with 81% saying said these regulations were clear, which is four percentage points more than in 2015. Conservative, SNP and Plaid Cymru staff had the fewest problems understanding spending and donation regulations, as did older electoral agents. Some 87% of those aged over 69 agreed the rules are clear compared with 74% of those 50 or under.
The study also found a low level of perception of electoral fraud among electoral agents. Just 10% said they thought there was ‘a little or a lot’ of election fraud, with 40% of the view there was ‘none at all’. And when split by party, it showed UKIP agents most likely to perceive fraud, with a quarter judging it to be ‘a little or a lot.’
Levels of experience with the electoral process had a marked effect on how satisfied electoral agents are with how the 2017 election was run. Agents with more experience were more satisfied.
“Overall, this is a ‘good news story’,” said Prof Fisher. “We tend to hear more about problems than success in public life, but these results indicate that in the case of elections at least, there is good cause for optimism”.
Hayley Jarvis, Media Relations
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