Report of the Assistant Director of Corporate Resources and Customer Services (Strategic Support)
The Committee considered the report of the Assistant Director of Corporate Resources and Customer Services (Strategic Support) that provided an update on the implications of the Elections Act 2022 on the conduct of future elections in Sefton.
The report indicated that on 28 April 2022, the Elections Act 2022 received Royal Assent and that the Act sought to:
· require voters to show photo ID at polling stations before a ballot paper is issued
· require Electoral Registration Officers (ERO) based in local authorities to issue free electoral identification documents – which was now called a 'Voter Authority Certificate' to eligible electors who applied for one
· require postal voters to reapply for a postal vote every three years, replacing current rules of refreshing their signature every five years
· restrict the handling of postal votes, including limiting the number of postal votes an individual could hand in at a polling station or council office
· further limit the number of people someone may act as proxy for
· extend accessibility to elections including requiring EROs to take all reasonable steps to provide support for those with a disability in polling stations
· simplify and clarify the offence of undue influence
· change the voting and candidacy arrangements for EU voters
· allow all British citizens living overseas to vote in UK Parliamentary elections, regardless of when they left the UK
and that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) was still developing the policy and secondary legislation, and at this time, it was expected that Secondary legislation would pass through Parliament around the 6 November 2022.
The report focussed on voter identification in polling stations and accessibility to elections requiring Returning Officers (RO) to provide support for those with a disability in polling stations as it was known that these issues would come into effect for May 2023 and with proposed funding to support such issues; but also provided information on:
· New Burdens Funding
· Communication about the new requirements
· Polling day implications
· Impacts for Elected Members
The report concluded that the Elections Act would present numerous challenges for the RO, ERO, Elections Team, the wider council, Elected Members, candidates and election agents; that challenges that may be faced in recruiting enough polling station staff especially, suitably qualified staff, would also need to be considered along with an appropriate rate of pay to recognize the increased responsibility; that it had long been the case that electoral services teams could continue to work in isolation due to the ever-growing scale and complexity of elections; and that the Elections Act further cemented the need to review our approach to elections to ensure all aspects of the Act were successfully implemented.
Appendix A attached to the report further detailed the New Burdens that would take effect after May 2023.
Members of the Committee asked questions/commented on the following issues:
· How the new voter ID proposal will be publicised in Sefton’s communities, including the funding request to government for the provision of a household notification letter; and the Electoral Commission materials that will be used by the Council
· The use of concessionary travel passes at polling stations as a valid form of voter ID
· People being encouraged more to apply for a postal vote rather than having to use voter ID at a polling station
· The potential of polling station staff being abused whilst rightly undertaking their duties and refusing to issue a ballot due to the elector not having any or the correct voter ID
· The steps being implemented to combat the build up of queues at polling stations due to the additional burdens on staff having to validate voter ID
· Concerns were expressed that the additional burdens placed on electors, especially if they had to obtain a voter authority certificate, may dissuade them from taking part in the democratic process
· Regarding accessibility issues a concern was expressed at the distances that some people had to walk to reach their polling station
· The administrative arrangements associated with the Presiding Officer refusing to issue a ballot paper if they had reasonable doubt that the photographic identification did not look like the elector, or if it was suspected that the voter ID was forged
· The ticketing system used at busy polling stations when queues formed near the 10.00 p.m. close of poll deadline
· The new arrangement to send every elector a A4 size letter detailing the new arrangements and polling station information rather than the previous A5 poll card
· Bearing in mind the implications of the Elections Act it was suggested that a presentation should be made to all Members of the Council to raise their awareness of the issues
the report updating on the implications of the Elections Act 2022 on the conduct of future elections in Sefton be noted;
the Chief Legal and Democratic Officer be requested to submit a further report to the Committee once the Elections Act 2022 secondary legislation has been passed and the implications for the Council become clearer;
the Chief Legal and Democratic Officer be requested to arrange a presentation for all Members of the Council to raise their awareness of the issues associated with the Elections Act 2022; and
the thanks of the Committee be extended to the Elections Team for their professionalism in administering elections in Sefton over many years.