2023 at the ERS: Our work behind the scenes

Electoral Reform Society,

Posted on the 28th November 2023

Each year we write an Annual Report which looks back at our achievements across the last 12 months, and explains how our team have campaigned towards securing our vision for a democracy fit for the 21st Century.

By using our voice in the media, developing in-depth research and policy, campaigning and influencing and making the case online we’ve led the charge for reform in 2023.

Read the full Annual Report for 2023: Our Year Campaigning for Change

Our work behind the scenes

To change the electoral system for Westminster we need legislation to go through parliament. Building connections with politicians is incredibly important because this allows us to better understand their existing priorities and the shifting party dynamics in which they operate. We are building our reputation as a trusted source of information by providing evidence-based research on a variety of democratic issues. This work ensures politicians feel confident when approaching us with concerns regarding upcoming legislation or wider constitutional issues.

Our work behind the scenes consists of meeting with MPs and their staff to better understand their democratic concerns, gathering information to identify politicians who might share our goals and promoting our reports and events. We work closely with other organisations in the democracy sector to support MPs in highlighting democratic issues to the government and organising events to facilitate conversations amongst politicians around our policy issues.

In Westminster

The Elections Act introduced voter ID for local elections for the first time this year. We fought the worst aspects of the bill with Unlock Democracy, Fair Vote and Open Britain, raising awareness of the change and highlight our concerns to parliamentarians.

ERS research was also used this year to create briefings for each stage of the Election Bill’s progress, and in March, create a giant map outside Parliament demonstrating the potential number of voters without ID. This intervention provided an opportunity to meet with parliamentarians to share our concerns ahead of the local elections.

voter ID means that 2068745 UK citizens could be turned away from polling stations

In April, we joined together with Unlock Democracy and Open Britain to hand in nearly 119,000 signatures to 10 Downing Street. The majority of the 118,759 signatures came from the ERS’ own petition which has seen thousands of you call on the Government to scrap these new ID laws.

Voter ID petition hand in

Our campaign was supported by the writer Armando Iannucci, who gave us the message:

Armando-IannucciI share with the many thousands who’ve signed the petition the desire to see these measures scrapped.” 

“This is an expensive, unnecessary and democratically damaging move. How can the Government on one hand say they want more people to take part in the democratic process and then put this additional barrier in the way?”.

Over the course of the year the research team has also responded to a number of parliamentary calls for evidence and consultations on topics such as the House of Lords Appointments Committee, improving electoral registration and the impact of the Elections Act 2022. With a General Election around the corner, we have also been focused on influencing party manifestos and have been meeting with politicians and responding to calls for policy submissions to ensure democratic reform stays on the agenda (and goes in manifestos).appg electoral reform

The ERS Cymru team came to Westminster at the end of November 2022 for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Electoral Reform’s meeting on Senedd reform. The ERS is the joint secretary for the group, where we help to organise the meetings. Members of the Welsh Senedd spoke about the changes they were making in Wales enlarging and changing the voting system for the Senedd. This gave us an opportunity to talk about electoral system reform with parliamentarians at a UK level.

Attendees of Sort the System take selfies in the queue
Attendees of Sort the System take selfies in the queue

We were also part of a coalition of democracy organisations that ran a mass lobby of parliament in May calling for proportional representation. The ‘Sort the System’ lobby saw hundreds of activists descend on Westminster demanding MPs of all parties take action in support of proportional representation.

The lobby, which saw hundreds of voters from across the country from constituencies as far afield as Suffolk Coastal, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, Blyth Valley and South East Cornwall met with MPs from every region of the country and every party in Parliament.

Supporters of electoral reform also attended a rally in the Emmanuel Centre to hear from a cross-party platform of speakers about the need to reform Westminster to deliver a system in which all votes count equally. Speakers included Clive Lewis MP (Labour), Cllr Hina Bokhari AM (Liberal Democrats) and Zack Polanski AM, Deputy leader of Green Party (England & Wales).

Leading politicians
Speakers at the Sort the System rally

In Scotland

Local Democracy Reform

After being curtailed due to the pandemic, the Scottish Government’s innovative Local Governance Review – Democracy Matters – restarted this summer. This was a welcome development and follows on from regular meetings we have been having with the Bill team as well as lobbying MSPs. The fact that ERS Scotland were the only external organisation asked to provide a quote for the government press release for the launch gives an idea of our position within the long-established campaign for a renewed local democracy in Scotland.

Scottish Democracy Conversations

This year saw us give a name to a strand of work that we have been progressing alongside other projects – Beyond the Constitutional Binary. We are creating a process that allows debate on how to evolve the government of Scotland beyond the Constitutional Question. It has seen us build good relationships with the well-regarded think tanks Our Scottish Future and Reform Scotland, figures in Scottish Labour and the SNP, and academics and thinkers on both sides of the constitutional debate. Our next step is to convene a roundtable of these potential partners in the early months of 2024.

Institutionalising Citizens’ Assemblies

ERS Scotland continues to lead the lobbying for the outcomes of the Institutionalising Participatory and Deliberative Democracy report, which we formed part of the Ministerial Working Group on. We are also progressing our proposals for local standing citizens’ assemblies by looking to set up a pilot project that would test-drive these ideas, to give us something concrete to point to in our meetings with decision makers.

In Wales

Changes to Electoral administration

We kicked off the year responding to the Welsh Government’s White Paper on Electoral Administration and Reform, which suggested a series of interventions to remove barriers to voters and improve engagement in Welsh elections.

Those suggestions have now made their way into legislation with the Counsel General introducing the Elections and Elected Bodies Bill in October. The Bill proposes a series of changes we have campaigned for including automatic voter registration, pilots on voting in different places and on different days, and a new online voter information portal. We have worked closely with the Welsh Government as this has developed and have responded with both written and oral evidence to a Senedd committee scrutinising the legislation.

Local Government reform

Members may remember that councils in Wales can now vote to move to STV. This is on an individual basis for each council and requires a two thirds majority, with a vote only being able to be held once per term. As such we have continued to work with councillors across Wales to build support for this change.

We have identified priority areas with a survey of all councillors in Wales which now has over a 66% response rate, meaning that two thirds of councillors in Wales have shared their views with us. We’ve been going to these priority areas, meeting with councillors and council leaders, holding information sessions and doing presentations making the case for the move to STV. We have also been learning from how STV in Scotland works with the ERS Cymru team meeting with Scottish councillors and MSPs to hear their experiences.

The deadline for councils to vote to move to STV ahead of the next local elections in 2027 is November 2024 and we are working closely with councils across Wales to share information and build support.

Support the ERS

As momentum builds for electoral reform, your support is more important than ever. Members support our work in parliament, in the press and at conferences like this one – making the case, and backing it up – for how we can fix Westminster’s broken system.

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