It’s Official! Everyone (apart from the Home Office) who has looked at the elections for police and crime commissioners (PCCs) say they should never be allowed to happen that way again.
At the Electoral Reform Society we’ve been pointing out these failures for some time. Even before the poll took place we said government mishandling would lead to a turnout of 18.5%. This earned a sharp rebuke from Ministers. Unfortunately we were too optimistic – only 15% of voters showed up that dreary November day, the worst turnout in peacetime history.
Now the Electoral Commission have come out with their findings. They’re an independent body set up by Parliament. That’s good because they don’t pull any punches in this report.
In addition to repeating the warnings that were given at all stages of the legislation as it went through Parliament, the Commission has conducted polling for insights into the experience of voters. Their results back up similar surveys undertaken by the Electoral Reform Society and released earlier this year.
They found that half of people knew “not very much” about the elections, and four out of five people said they did not have enough information to make an informed choice.
That last point is important. The report is a reminder of the litany of disasters that took place around that election. The lack of information for voters about candidates was a central problem. Relying so heavily on an assumption that people would visit a website or telephone in an order for a booklet on candidates means that nearly 95% of the population missed out. As Jenny Watson, the chair of the Electoral Commission astutely observed, “we have to work in the world that we’re in, not the world we’d like to be in”
Regardless of any party affiliation or of whether this was even a good idea in the first place, once Parliament voted to hold elections for PCCs it was critical that they were conducted competently for the sake of credibility. Not just for the credibility of the winning candidates, but for democracy as a whole. The right for the public to vote is something that has been fought for – and continues to be every day somewhere in the world. Complacency on such matters is an insult to everyone who has sacrificed much to achieve a universal franchise.
Suggestions of how to improve these elections have been made by the Electoral Commission, the Association of Electoral Administrators and by ERS. In our case we involved thousands of our supporters who objected to seeing an election process so badly mishandled. We want all our voices to be heard at the Home Office.
So well done to the Electoral Commission on its report. It’s a pity they don’t have the power to issue directives on administrative details for running elections. In the case of these set of public elections, the warnings were all there. We all tried to get the Government to take notice. Given what a comprehensive disaster they are now held to have been, let’s hope the Government doesn’t try and beat its own record for conducting the worst election ever.
Our report How Not to Run an Election by Jess Garland and Chris Terry is available to download here
The Electoral Commission’s report Police and Crime Commissioner elections in England and Wales – Report on the administration of the elections held on 15 November 2012 is available here