Nearly three weeks on from one of the longest weekends I have ever had it still feels slightly unreal to be an elected Councillor. Looking back on the last week of the election and the three days of counting I am struck as how we still have a system which frankly bis not fit for purpose in the 21st century. Reform of the electoral process and further reform of Local Government I think is essential and should be made an issue in the 2016 general election. Where should those reforms start? There are a number of issues that arose over the course of the campaign which need to be examined. The list below is really a starting point:
Posters: I did not meet a single candidate or indeed voter who support the current way we organise the putting up of posters. After a week of the posters being up people and indeed candidates were sick of looking at them. In my view they are up for too long a period and there are too many. Banning them outright would give an unfair advantage to incumbent candidates but there does need to be changes. The following should be considered:
1) Reducing the 30 day period where election posters can be erected to 10 days. The fact is posters do have an initial impact and then essentially blend in reducing their effect. I think most candidates experience was one where we ended up babysitting posters for the month and stress every day the wind started blowing heavily!
2) Allowing posters to be erected from 6pm on the agreed date for putting posters up. The current rules mean that you have teams putting up posters after midnight which is dangerous and makes no sense. Setting the time at 6pm gives every candidate a fair chance.
3) Limiting the number of posters per candidates to 100: Each poster could be numbered individually and limiting the number of posters ensures fairness between all candidates. It would also reduce of posters on polls. It would also reduce the amount of money candidates need to spend.
Ballot Papers: One feature of this election was the number of candidates that decided to run. It meant very long ballot papers and indeed the number of spoiled votes. Speaking to some of the other candidates at the count a number of suggestions were discussed. The idea of having the ballot paper like a lotto ticket is worth investigating. Essentially you would have the list of candidates and then a list of numbers beside each candidates name. The voter would then mark over the ‘1’ if they wanted to give that candidates their number one vote so like when you do the lotto you have to mark out your numbers. It would reduce spoiled votes considerably.
Voter Registration: It is clear that we have a process that is simply not fit for purpose any more. There are significant areas where voter registration is less than 50%. This particularly affects estates that were built in the last 10 years. Political parties talk about political reform particularly when in opposition, but it is hard to take such claims seriously as no attempt as been made to reform voter registration. This government, and indeed previous governments, have stood over an obsolete and archaic system of voter registration. The current register is inaccurate partly because the process of registering voters has not changed since the pre-digital age. There needs to be root and branch reform of the registration process. I propose:
- Removing this function from local authorities and establishing a dedicated electoral commission whose task would be to manage and maintain the Register.
- A once-off audit of the current Register to resolve anomalies and remove names that are on the Register twice.
- Introducing the option of registering to vote on line. All aspects of our lives from filling in tax returns to booking flights is now done online. Surely it’s democracy’s turn?
- A person’s registration could be linked to their PPS number so if they moved to a different constituency the process to amend the Register would be simpler.
- The option of filling out a written application to get on the Register should be maintained but the forms need to be made widely available throughout the community.